(WASHINGTON) — Just days after Donald Trump announced his third bid for the White House, former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan denounced the twice-impeached former president’s political future, calling himself a “Never-Again-Trumper.”
“I’m proud of the accomplishments [during the Trump administration] — of the tax reform, the deregulation and criminal justice reform — I’m really excited about the judges we got on the bench, not just the Supreme Court, but throughout the judiciary,” Ryan told ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent and “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview that aired Sunday. “But I am a Never-Again-Trumper. Why? Because I want to win, and we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in ’18, in ’20 and now in 2022.”
While Republicans secured the House with a razor-thin majority, they failed to flip the Senate. The “red wave” that was widely predicted this midterm season did not come to pass. Ryan put the blame directly on the former president.
“I personally think the evidence is really clear,” Ryan said in his first Sunday show interview since he left office in 2019. “The biggest factor was the Trump factor … I think we would have won places like Arizona, places like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire had we had a typical, traditional conservative Republican, not a Trump Republican.”
“With Trump, we lose,” he added.
“We lost the House in ’18,” Ryan continued. “We lost the presidency in ’20. We lost the Senate in ’20. And now in 2022 we should have and could have won the Senate. We didn’t. And we have a much lower majority in the House because of that Trump factor.”
During the interview, Ryan pointed to the Trump-endorsed candidates’ lackluster performance during the midterms. At least 30 of the former president’s hand-picked candidates, including some of the most notable nominees in various states, lost in their general elections after winning their primaries.
“He can get his people through the primaries, but they can’t win general elections,” Ryan said. “We get past Trump, we start winning elections. We stick with Trump, we keep losing elections. That’s just how I see it.”
And if Trump is once again the GOP nominee for president?
“We [will] probably likely lose the White House,” Ryan said, adding that he thinks suburban voters don’t like Trump or the candidates he endorses.
In 2016, Trump managed to hold off a crowded GOP presidential field with only a plurality of the vote in the early primary states. Despite that dynamic, Ryan said he isn’t worried that the same dynamic could play out in 2024 — that a packed field of Republicans would split the vote and once again clear the way for Trump to win the party’s nomination.
“This is my hopeful scenario,” Ryan said. “That we consolidate around somebody that is forged from this primary process capable of winning the general election, and I bet we — I bet that happens.”
Ryan remains hopeful, he said. As long as the nominee is not named Trump, he believes the Republican candidate will win the White House. He’s looking for a “Reagan 2.0.”
“I really believe a Reagan 2.0 conservative is something that will be — that the country will want, I think that our voters will want,” he said. “I think that our voters will want someone that is a good, verifiable conservative, problem solver, but also a unifier and somebody who’s not so polarizing.”
Ryan backs McCarthy on road to speakership
Republicans will have an extraordinarily slim majority come January, which means every vote in the Republican caucus will matter. Ryan believes current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the person to lead the House as speaker, saying McCarthy is the “best vote counter” he’s ever worked with.
“There isn’t anybody better suited to running this conference than Kevin McCarthy,” Ryan said, endorsing his former colleague. “He’s been good for conservatives, frankly, but he’s also a person who really understands how to manage a conference.”
When Ryan was speaker, he had a much larger majority in the House than what the Republican party will have in 2023.
“No matter what bill you’re going to bring to the floor, it is almost impossible with that tight [of] a majority to have just only your party passing legislation,” Ryan said.
“Having said that, there’s nothing as unifying as a really razor-thin majority,” he continued. “It makes people realize I can’t get everything I want; I have to be a part of a team; I’m going to have to not negotiate and compromise.”
Ryan said McCarthy understands he needs the entire conference to work with him. He said McCarthy will be able to motivate the different wings within the Republican Party — from more moderate-leaning districts to the Tuesday Group to the Freedom Caucus.
Prior to the midterms, at least nine impeachment resolutions against President Joe Biden and members of his Cabinet were introduced by representatives such as Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. The basis for the resolutions ranged from the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to the president’s son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
“Would it be a mistake for Republicans that instead of getting the ideas you’re talking about — getting into, you know, heavy, heavy investigations?” Karl asked.
“No, they need to do oversight,” Ryan pushed back, adding that he thinks there should be some accountability with Hunter Biden and the other investigations.
“I’m a big Article 1 guy,” he continued. “What that means is I very strongly believe in the legislative branch of government conducting thorough oversight of the executive branch to hold them accountable.”
But he still thinks the Republicans need to push forward an agenda to address the problems every day Americans are facing.
“Can they chew gum and walk at the same time?” Ryan said. “Have investigations, have oversight hearings, hold the executive branch to account, and offer new ideas and solutions to our problems? Yes. That’s what Congress is supposed to do.”
“I think there are important issues in our culture that need to be litigated and we need to preserve our country’s principles, but it’s not enough to just, you know, be really good on Twitter and survive in the entertainment wing of our party,” Ryan added. “You have to offer a country solutions.”
Ryan once again charts his path forward for GOP
Ryan left office in 2019 after spending 20 years in Congress, four of which he was speaker of the House, working under both a Democratic and Republican president. But he said he’s not done trying to find solutions to America’s problems. He’s out with a new book: “American Renewal: A Conservative Plan to Strengthen the Social Contract and Save the Country’s Finances.”
“In this book, we offer very granular solutions to the big problems confronting America,” Ryan said. One of his major concerns, he said, is what he called the unsustainable debt trajectory that America is on. He said his book offers “a conservative plan to help this country get over its enormous challenges.”
Ryan acknowledged that Americans want health and retirement security, but he believes the current programs are unsustainable in the 21st century.
“Medicare trust fund goes bankrupt in this decade,” Ryan said. “The Social Security trust fund goes bankrupt in 2032.”
But Ryan, the self-proclaimed optimist, believes these problems are solvable.
“There are changes that you can make to the Social Security system today that [guarantees] people counting on this program will always have those benefits,” he said. “We’re going to have to reform these programs so that you and I and the next generation on down actually have something. That’s the kind of conversation we have to elevate our debate to I think in our federal, national politics, and I think we can because America has always gotten it right at the end of the process.”
Praise for Pelosi’s legacy
When asked about current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stepping down from her leadership role, Ryan complimented her and her legacy.
“Obviously, she and I usually disagree on things, but first woman Speaker — a career to be proud of,” Ryan said. “She broke a glass ceiling, and there’s a lot to be proud about there.”
Addressing the attack on the speaker’s husband, Paul Pelosi, he called it “awful” and said he’s been thinking a lot about it.
Nancy Pelosi cited one reason for her stepping down to spend more time with her family, which Ryan understood. He himself retired from political office to spend more time with his family. He now teaches economics at the University of Notre Dame, has a poverty foundation and works at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank.
A return to politics?
“You talked about the direction of the party and the direction of the country. Are we ever going to see you back in politics?” Karl asked.
“I like doing it the way I’m doing it now,” Ryan said.
When asked if he would run for president in 2024, Ryan said, “No, I mean, I’m definitely not running in 2024. I don’t think I — it just — I have presidential-sized policy ambition, but I really don’t have presidential-sized personal ambition, so I just don’t see myself doing that.”
“OK, so we can take that as a maybe,” Karl joked.
“No,” Ryan said, laughing. “I don’t think so.”
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