George Will’s unfair attack on Paul Ryan [UPDATED]

George Will has lashed out at Speaker Paul Ryan for endorsing Donald Trump. Ryan says he endorsed Trump because he thinks a Trump presidency would be better for Ryan’s House policy agenda than would a Clinton presidency.

Ryan is almost certainly right about this. However, Will finds it insufficient reason for Ryan to support Trump. He dismisses Ryan’s thinking this way:

In Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for All Seasons,” Thomas More is betrayed by Richard Rich, who commits perjury to please the king, in exchange for being named attorney general for Wales. Says More: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. . . . But for Wales?” Or for the House agenda?

It is said that some people seek office because to “be” something, while others seek it to “do” something. I suspect that most politicians desire both, at least initially. Ryan, though, is considered (correctly, I think) a politician for whom “doing” matters profoundly.

The House agenda is, in effect, Ryan’s life work. Dismissing it with an analogy to Richard Rich doesn’t work. Rich just wanted to be something.

For Ryan, the presumption is and should be to support the presidential candidate under whom his policy agenda is more likely to advance. Under Clinton, that agenda goes nowhere; under Trump, aspects of it stand a good chance of taking hold.

The presumption I have just described is rebuttable. One wouldn’t support a fascist, a warmonger, or a candidate bent on overthrowing the Constitution just to improve the prospects of a balanced budget.

I don’t believe Trump answers to any of these descriptions and I assume Ryan doesn’t think so either. But Ryan perceives Trump’s many serious flaws; otherwise, he would have endorsed him earlier.

Accordingly, Ryan’s task was to weigh Trump’s shortcomings against extent to which the policies he favors will fare better under Trump than under Clinton. If anyone has figured out how to do this with confidence, please let me know.

Conservatives should recognize that the calls on endorsing, supporting, and/or voting for Trump are difficult ones for many of us. They should recognize that reasonable conservatives can differ.

They should be slow to attack one another over where they come out. Otherwise, they risk adding to the damage Trump already has inflicted on conservatism.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer defends Ryan’s decision here. Krauthammer distinguishes between how individual voters and political leaders like Ryan might go about deciding whether to back Trump. It’s a useful distinction, I think.

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