Just days after Donald Trump announced his third candidacy for the White House, former House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced the twice-impeached former president’s political future, calling himself a “never-again-trumper.”
“I’m proud of the achievements [during the Trump administration] — tax reform, deregulation and criminal justice reform — I’m really excited about the judges we’ve gotten on the bench, not just in the Supreme Court but throughout the judiciary,” Ryan told ABC News’ chief correspondent in Washington and This Week co-host Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview that aired Sunday: “But I’m a never-again trumper. Why? Because I want to win and we lose with Trump. That was really clear to us when we were 18, 20 and now in 2022.”
While Republicans secured the House of Representatives with a razor-thin majority, they failed to overturn the Senate. The widely predicted “red wave” for this midterm season has not materialized. Ryan put the blame squarely on the former president.
“Personally, I think the evidence is really strong,” Ryan said in his first interview on the Sunday show since leaving office in 2019. “The biggest factor was the Trump factor… I think we’d have places like Arizona, Places like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, we had a typical, traditionally conservative Republican, not a Trump Republican.”
“With Trump, we lose,” he added.
“We lost house 18,” Ryan continued. “We lost the presidency in 20. We lost the Senate in 20. And now, in 2022, we should and could have won the Senate. We didn’t do it. And we have a much smaller majority in the House of Representatives because of Trump factor.”
During the interview, Ryan pointed to the lackluster performance of Trump-backed candidates during the midterm elections. At least 30 of the former president’s handpicked candidates, including some of the most notable candidates in various states, lost their general election after winning their primary.
“He can get his people through the primary, but they can’t win the general election,” Ryan said. “We’re getting past Trump, we’re starting to win elections. We stay with Trump, we keep losing elections. That’s how I see it.”
What if Trump is the GOP nominee for President again?
“We [will] probably lose the White House,” Ryan said, adding that he thinks suburban voters don’t like Trump or the candidates he’s backing.
In 2016, Trump managed to hold off a crowded GOP presidential field with just a majority of votes in the early primary states. Despite those dynamics, Ryan said he wasn’t concerned the same dynamics could play out in 2024 — that a full field of Republicans would split the vote and once again clear the way for Trump to win the party’s nomination.
“That’s my hopeful scenario,” Ryan said. “That we’re consolidating around someone forged from that primary process and capable of winning the general election, and I bet we — I bet that’s happening.”
Ryan remains hopeful, he said. As long as the nominee’s name isn’t Trump, he believes the Republican nominee will win the White House. He is looking for a “Reagan 2.0”.
“I really think a Reagan 2.0 conservative is going to be something that the country is going to want, I think our constituents are going to want,” he said. “I think our constituents are going to want someone who’s a good, verifiable conservative, problem-solver, but also a unifier and someone who isn’t as polarizing.”
Ryan supports McCarthy on the way to the announcer
Republicans will have an extraordinarily narrow majority in January, meaning every vote in the Republican caucus counts. Ryan believes current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is the person who will lead the House as Speaker and says McCarthy is the “best teller” he has ever worked with.
“There is no one better suited to chair this conference than Kevin McCarthy,” Ryan said, endorsing his former colleague. “He was honestly good for conservatives, but he’s also a person who really understands how to run a conference.”
When Ryan was Speaker, he had a much larger majority in the House of Representatives than the Republican Party will have in 2023.
“No matter what bill you put on the floor, it’s almost impossible with this tightness [of] a majority just to get your party to pass legislation,” Ryan said.
“Still, there’s nothing that unites you like a really razor-thin majority,” he continued. “It makes people realize that I can’t get everything I want. I have to be part of a team, I can’t negotiate and I can’t compromise.”
Ryan said McCarthy understands he needs the entire conference to work with him. He said McCarthy will be able to motivate the various wings within the Republican Party – from more moderate districts to the Tuesday group to the Freedom Caucus.
Prior to the midterms, at least nine impeachment cases were brought against President Joe Biden and members of his cabinet by representatives such as Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. The basis of the decisions ranged from the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan to the affairs of the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
“Would it be a mistake for Republicans to go into some serious, serious investigations instead of coming up with the ideas you’re talking about?” asked Karl.
“No, they have to be in charge,” Ryan backed off, adding that he felt there should be some accountability to Hunter Biden and the other investigations.
“I’m a big Article 1 guy,” he continued. “It means that I believe very strongly that the government’s legislature exercises thorough oversight of the executive branch to hold it accountable.”
But he still believes Republicans need to advance an agenda to address the problems Americans face every day.
“Can you chew gum and walk at the same time?” said Ryan. Conduct investigations, oversee hearings, hold executive branch accountable, and offer new ideas and solutions to our problems? Yes. That is what Congress is supposed to do.”
“I think there are important issues in our culture that need to be negotiated and we need to uphold our country’s principles, but it’s not enough to just be really good at Twitter and survive in the entertainment wing of our party,” Ryan added 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 were as Speaker of the House of Representatives, serving under both a Democratic and Republican president. But he said he’s not done finding solutions to America’s problems. He has a new book out, “American Renewal: A Conservative Plan to Strengthen the Social Contract and Save the Country’s Finances.”
“In this book, we offer very detailed solutions to the big problems America is facing,” Ryan said. One of his main concerns, he said, is what he called the unsustainable debt path America is on. He said his book offers “a conservative plan to help this country meet its tremendous challenges.”
Ryan acknowledged that Americans want health and pension security, but he believes current programs are unsustainable in the 21st century.
“The Medicare trust fund is going bankrupt this decade,” Ryan said. “Social Security Trust Fund going bankrupt in 2032.”
But Ryan, the self-proclaimed optimist, believes these problems are solvable.
“There are changes you can make to the Social Security system today [guarantees] People who rely on this program will always have these benefits,” he said. “We need to reform these programs so that you and I and the next generation down actually have something. That’s the kind of conversation I think we need to take our debate to 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 if current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stepping down from her leadership role, Ryan praised her and her legacy.
“Obviously, she and I don’t usually agree, but first speaker — a career to be proud of,” Ryan said. “She broke a glass ceiling and there’s a lot to be proud of.”
Addressing the attack on the speaker’s husband, Paul Pelosi, he called it “terrible” and said he had given it a lot of thought.
Nancy Pelosi cited one reason for her resignation as being to spend more time with her family, which Ryan understood. He himself retired from political office to spend more time with his family. Today he teaches economics at the University of Notre Dame, has a poverty foundation and works at the American Enterprise Institute, a centre-right think tank.
Return to politics?
“You talked about the direction of the party and the direction of the country. Will we ever see you in politics again?” 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 really don’t have any personal presidential ambition, so I just don’t see myself in it.”
“Okay, so we can take that as maybe,” Karl joked.
“No,” Ryan said, laughing. “I do not think so.”