WASHINGTON – Former House Speaker Paul Ryan says the Republican Party needs to focus on “principles” rather than individuals – namely former President Donald Trump – as he opens a new lecture series on the future of the GOP.
“No party should revolve around a single person,” said Ryan, who on Thursday starts the new series sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute.
Amid Republican election losses and in-fighting over Trump’s role, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute – a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the legacy of the nation’s 40th president – is sponsoring a a project/ it says is designed “to address critical questions facing the future of the Republican Party.”
Ryan, who clashed repeatedly with Trump when both were in office, told USA TODAY that the volatile ex-president is an “enormous force” in American politics and in the Republican Party, but “I think our party will find its greatest success by rallying around principles rather specific people.”
Future speakers in the series being held at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, Calif., will be more supportive of Trump. They include a number of allies and ex-aides who are thinking of running for president themselves: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley; former Vice President Mike Pence; former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
The schedule, which is still being finalized, also includes conservatives who traffic more in ideas, including Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
In any event, the party is unlikely to move on from Trump anytime soon, said some current and former Republicans.
Trump has repeatedly exhibited his continuing hold on the party, from the expulsion of Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from House Republican leadership to all the GOP lawmakers who continue to challenge the outcome of last year’s election to downplaying the threat of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Ex-rep. Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman who left the party last year because of its fealty to Trump, said its future consists of “older white men and older white women espousing victim hood, nationalism, protectionism, conspiracies, lies, and intolerance.”
“In other words,” Walsh said, “Trumpism.”
Republican political strategist Liz Mair said the Reagan forums “could provide some incentive for emerging 2024 presidential candidates to insure their campaigns adhere to more traditional conservative principles.”
On the other hand, Mair said, modern politics is still as it was in ancient Rome: “Who wields the levers of power in politics is often decided by the mob, not by people attending well-conceived, well-put-together speakers’ series.”
The Republican self-examination comes ahead of 2022 congressional elections featuring an unusual spectacle: The prospect of an ex-president promoting allies and targeting critics in Republican primaries.
Trump, who continues to make false claims about alleged “voter fraud,” blaming it for his loss to President Joe Biden, is also mulling another presidential bid in 2024.
In the meantime, Trump is specifically threatening the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach him over the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
His hit list is topped by Cheney, who lost her job in House GOP leadership after her repeated criticisms of Trump. Cheney said the party needs to move away from Trump and his lies about the election.
Ryan has not commented publicly on Cheney’s removal from leadership, and won’t in his speech at the Reagan library. Despite Trump’s threats, Ryan has said he will support most House Republican incumbents next year, including those who supported impeachment and those who didn’t.
In excerpts from prepared remarks at the Reagan library, Ryan said “conservatives have to be careful not to get caught up in every little cultural battle. Sometimes these skirmishes are just creations of outrage peddlers, detached from reality and not worth anybody’s time.”
Ryan plans to say that Republicans “must be defined by more than a tussle over the latest grievance or perceived slight. We must not let them take priority over solutions –grounded in principle – to improve people’s lives.”
As for the Republicans’ current posture, Ryan noted that as recently as 2018 the Republicans controlled the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and the White House.
“A few years ago, we had all three,” Ryan said. “Now we have none.”