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Friday, December 08, 2023
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Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke with La Follette School of Public Affairs Director Susan Webb Yackee, discussing current U.S. public policy and political divide. 

Paul Ryan discusses partisan divide, Trump electability in UW-Madison visit

The former Speaker of the House said Republicans will lose in 2024 if Trump is the nominee.

Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan provided his perspective on bridging political divides as well as furthering economic and climate policy during a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Tuesday. evening.

Director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs Susan Webb Yackee joined Ryan, who is serving as the school’s Policymaker in Residence, in Memorial Union for a conversation about finding common ground, narrowing the 2024 Republican field of contenders and using productive policy to solve pressing issues.

“Get out of your cocoon. Spend time with people who do not look or think like you, and do not impute people's motives. You have two ears and one mouth used in that proportion — this was good advice my mom always gave me,” Ryan said.

Ryan said Republicans will lose the election if they back former President Donald Trump in 2024, saying leaders should embody honest and moral behavior. 

“Donald Trump doesn’t try to do any of that. He does the opposite, frankly. I just don’t think he’s fit for the job here,” he said.

Ryan represented Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District for two decades in the House of Representatives and took on roles such as chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, chair of the House Committee on the Budget, served as the 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019 and received a 2012 Republican vice presidential nomination. 

He highlighted the Republican Party’s struggle with the “culture war populism” tethered to the personality of Donald Trump, noting that college-educated suburbanite swing voters will not vote for Trump. 

“Do you think those suburban voters like Donald Trump more since Jan. 6? I mean, good grief. They didn't vote for him this last time, [and] they're not going to vote for him again,” Ryan added.

A poll conducted by FiveThirtyEight found that 55.5% of Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump. Still, Trump leads the GOP primary field ahead of Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate with 54.7% of support, significantly ahead of the next closest candidate, Ron DeSantis, who has 13.9%.

Ryan criticized the government shutdown and said it was a “handful of members” that “blew up the appropriations process,” as more than half of current House members “were never there for a government shutdown.” 

The current stalemate is over demands Republicans, some of whom are upset with McCarthy for striking a deal with the White House on the Fiscal Responsibility Act, have made about cutting the level of federal funding, according to Vox. McCarthy has struggled to appease conservatives in the process, and Democrats are unlikely to support the legislation.

Ryan, a Janesville native, also dove into economic and climate policy during his term. He championed tax and healthcare reform, pushed for military funding and notably helped Congressional Republicans pass a significant tax cut in 2017.  

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While in Congress, Ryan drafted and released a paper titled “Expanding Opportunity in America” where he detailed mass areas of economic policy and how they could be reformed to help Americans get ahead.  

Ryan shared his excitement about bettering the country’s economic policy and explained how technology can help us solve this issue.  

“A wage increase, a promotion, a second job, something, knocks them back in benefits,” Ryan said. “You take three steps forward, then you end up advancing, and you take four steps back.”  

Ryan’s solution is to use digital technology to create the right “incentive structures” to successfully solve issues relating to lack of education and addiction.  

Additionally, Ryan discussed climate change at Tuesday’s event. In 2022, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill passed in part to increase “clean energy” jobs and reduce greenhouse gasses through incentivizing and investing in renewable energy use. 

Ryan said Tuesday he was “not a fan of the Inflation Reduction Act,” and that the policy is similar to industrial policy, which “subsidizes today and yesterday’s technologies.”

Ryan proposed that a carbon tax “is going to really, really encourage other countries to follow suit.” 

“You’re sending signals to the marketplace so that carbon-intensive energy and carbon-intensive goods are more expensive,” he added.  

The outcome, Ryan said, is that industries will “come up with less carbon-free goods and services that can be more economically viable.”  

Ryan attended a reception prior to the event to meet with La Follette graduate students and Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin. He originally planned to visit Madison in February but postponed until September due to inclement weather. 

Ryan last visited Madison students in 2016, when he addressed College Republicans at the Madison Masonic Center Foundation.

The Policymaker in Residence program is funded by the Kohl Initiative and aims to provide students with the opportunity to learn about real-world examples of evidence-based policymaking.

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Rachel Hale

Rachel Hale is a senior staff writer who covers state politics and campus events. Before getting involved with The Daily Cardinal, she was a culture editor at Moda Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelleighhale.

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