“You cannot be a hero without being a coward.” –George Bernard Shaw
In this election season, no duo has received more criticism than the ‘reasonable’ members of the Republican party, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. These two figureheads for a younger conservative movement have been publicly lambasted as “Trump lapdogs,” rolling over in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory and catering to his every whim. Are they truly sellouts, or are they actually playing a political long game?
Rubio’s transformation from Trump opponent to Trump supporter unnerved many people had who placed their hope in him as the GOP nominee. Rubio’s decision to jump back into the Florida Senate race after saying he was not going to run again also drew a lot of criticism. However, Rubio’s actions were not motivated by cowardice but by strategy. Once Rubio decided he was going to run again, he could not risk alienating Trump’s base of support in Florida. Rubio could not denounce Trump without blocking himself from office, so he maintained his distance from Trump and won reelection easily. Today, Rubio is positioning himself as a voice that is not afraid to speak out against Trump’s actions. Rubio’s harsh rhetoric against Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was a sharp rebuke to the president. Rubio is merely one senator, and acting out alone against Trump is not a strategy that is likely to accomplish anything. Rather, Rubio’s long-term chances for being a positive force in politics revolve around his ability to act meaningfully in the Senate rather than stand in the way of the president just because of anger.
Ryan’s situation is different because of the nature of his job. Before the election, Ryan distanced himself from Trump when the GOP nominee made incendiary statements. However, when Trump won, Ryan was forced to either work with Trump or step down from his role as Speaker of the House. He made the same calculation that Rubio did — it was better for the country for Ryan to work with Trump instead of turning his back on him. As the Speaker, it is important for Ryan to keep his House Caucus together. Members of the House tend to be more extreme in their positions, and if Ryan alienates the Trump supporters, he will be unable to gather majority support and have any political power. Thus, the only way for Ryan to proceed is to stand with Trump.
People have criticized Rubio and Ryan for their cowardice and inability to stand up to Trump, but what would the opposite really accomplish? The two have decided that it is better to work with our president in order to have measured, reasonable people in power. They would rather pick their moments to act rather than lash out at the first sign of trouble. As a nation built around the strong foundation of the Constitution, the United States will hopefully be able to withstand any transgressions by our president and look to those who can survive the Trump storm for a brighter future. If it cannot, it is not something that Rubio or Ryan would have been able to fix.