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Paul Ryan, Fox News, and the Future of the GOP
My conversation with the former speaker.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the conservative media empire that owns Fox News, acknowledged in a deposition that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the election in 2020 was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump, court documents released on Monday showed….
Dominion’s latest filing also described how Paul D. Ryan, a former Republican speaker of the House and current member of the Fox Corporation board of directors, said in his deposition that he had told Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Murdoch’s son Lachlan, the chief executive officer, “Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories.” Mr. Ryan suggested that the network pivot and “move on from Donald Trump and stop spouting election lies.”
“Fox was trying to navigate this dynamic between a core group of Trump loyalists who were ignoring the truth,” Ryan told lawyers for Dominion.
As a Board Member, Ryan believed that the period immediately following the 2020 Presidential Election was a pretty important inflection point, not just for the company Fox, but for the country and for the conservative movement itself and shared this view as a fiduciary with Rupert and Lachlan.
( Q. And you thought it was in Fox News interest to separate out these fringe claims of voter fraud, correct? A. Yeah, that's my fiduciary duty. ).
He confirmed that the inflection point was not just one day; it was the whole time in the post-election November/December timeframe. Ryan knew that these conspiracy theories were baseless and that Fox should labor to dispel conspiracy theories if and when they pop up.
The court filings show that Ryan played an active and vocal role behind the scenes, urging the Murdochs to push back against the flood of election lies on the network.
But he remains on the Fox board, even though the network continues to push baseless conspiracy theories about the election and January 6th.
As readers of Morning Shots know, I sat down with Ryan last Thursday night. Our full conversation will be posted on today’s Bulwark Podcast (so stay tuned).
We talked about his “Never Again Trump” stance and his successor as speaker, Kevin McCarthy. We discussed the excommunication of Liz Cheney, how Marjorie Taylor Greene became the face of the Republican party, the failure of immigration reform, and the re-emergence of “fiscal conservatism.”
I also asked him about his role as a member of the Fox Corporation Board.
Here’s a partial transcript of our conversation:
CS: We should talk about Fox News for a moment…because Donald Trump, sitting down at Mar-a-Lago, is convinced that you are pulling the strings at Fox News.
PR: Yeah, I could care less.
CS: So, tell me a little bit about what responsibilities as a member of the board you have.
PR: So, the board, you don't decide content and personnel you don't decide who goes on the air, who doesn't, what they say, that's not what you do on the board. I mean, it's a big company….You’re probably ask me why I'm on the board. I think that's probably where you're going next. I think it's really important in society, that we have strong cultural, private institutions that can stand up toward what I would call it sort of a woke conformity. I think it's really important for the sake of pluralism that you have alternative voices that are readily accessible and are strong enough to stand up for for pluralism then get sort of pushed down. So, if only for that reason alone, I think it's very important to have an institution like that. Do I disagree with Tucker on this stuff? Of course, I absolutely disagree with him. Different kinds of conservatives — I don't agree with that part.
CS: So you probably didn't get it but I wrote an open letter to you in Politico magazine. [Paul Ryan, It’s Time for You to Stand Up to Fox.]
PR: I actually didn’t.
CS: I brought you a copy.
I said, look, at this particular moment, with Tucker Carlson spreading the Great Replacement theory about race, you know, some of the rawest racism we have in American culture. We had disinformation about the pandemic, we had an ongoing revision of January 6, actually undermining democracy. And I guess the point was, okay, I understand the need to have another point of view, but if you are on the board of directors of a company that is pumping toxic sludge, racism, disinformation, and attacks on democracy, if you don't stand up now, then when?
PR: So what do you really think? [crosstalk /applause]
CS: I'm sorry it got lost in the mail, but do you have any responsibility?
PR: I do. I have a responsibility to offer my opinion and perspective and I do that, but I don't go on TV and do it right. So I offer my perspective, my opinion, often. I'll just leave it at that. Okay.
CS: So, you have raised these particular —
PR: I will just leave it at that.
CS: Is there a red line for you at any point where you said “I cannot be associated with a company that does this”?
PR: I want to see the conservative movement get through this moment. And I think Fox is a big part of the constellation of the conservative movement. [crosstalk]
CS: Is it the solution or the problem?
PR: Oh, no, I think it's gonna have to be a part of the solution if we're going to solve the problem in the conservative movement. Because there isn't a bigger platform than this in America. So I think the conservative movement is going through a lot of churn and a lot of turmoil and I don't like where it is right now. You know that. You know the kind of conservative — I'm a classical liberal, constitutional, limited government, free enterprise conservative, a Jack Kemp-Ronald Reagan conservative.
So, I want to make sure that we get through this moment and I think — this screed you just made on Fox — I think that was probably just Tucker. I can go four times as long about other stuff that I think are really good that are on there that are being advanced, and voices that are being heard on Fox News that are giving voice to what I would call proper conservatism properly understood. So it's a long process, a big institution, but I do want to make sure that we get the conservative movement in a good place in America again.
Here are some other highlights from our conversation, including this exchange about MTG, McCarthy, and the future of the GOP:
CS: How did we get from, say 2015, 2014, where you were the face of, and the most well known member of the House of Representatives. How do you go from Paul Ryan, as the face of Republicans in the House, to Marjorie Taylor Greene?…. There used to be guardrails, right? But if you had a congressman from Iowa, who said nice things about white supremacy, the Republican Party would discipline — would kick them off the committees. If you had a conspiracy theorist, somebody who trafficked in racism and antisemitism, they would not be promoted.
PR: Yeah, I kicked like five or six people out of Congress.
CS: Would you put Marjorie Taylor Greene on the Homeland Security Committee?
PR: What I don't want to do — you want to ask me a bunch of McCarthy questions — I don't want a Monday morning quarterback my successor.
CS: What would you do?
PR: Nice. Cute cute. I'm not gonna Monday morning quarterback my successor. It's a tough enough job as it is. Boehner didn't do it to me I'm not going to do it to Kevin. We're different people. We make different decisions, but I'm not going to go through and tit for tat what he's doing or isn't doing. I just don't think that's good for him. The whole culture is degraded.
CS: Should Marjorie Taylor Greene be a leader of the Republican Party?
PR: I think idea-people should be the leaders of the Republican Party, people with vision, principles, and solutions should be the leader of our party.
CS: Well, you just mentioned you didn't want to second guess Kevin McCarthy. One of the things that he did ...
PR: But you want to ask me another second-guessing ...
CS: Well you know there are things happening in the world… Kevin McCarthy has had an evolving position on what happened on January 6. Okay, so let's set him aside for a moment. I won't ask you about his decision to give 40,000 hours of surveillance tape to Tucker Carlson at Fox News. What I will ask you though, is: what do you think happened on January 6, and what should Republicans say about it and do about it going forward?
PR: Yeah, that's an easy one for me to call. It was awful. I mean, it was terrible. It was an insurrection, it was violence. We should have done a bicameral, bipartisan committee in the first place.
So I would have…. there I just Monday morning quarterbacked the guy.
I believe it was a travesty. Trump is to blame. He should be held accountable for it, at least politically speaking. And the last thing we should do is try to whitewash it. We should castigate it. We should call it for what it was. Say it should never happen again. Make sure that you've made adjustments in security and things like that to make sure it never happens again, and condemn the heck out of it.
CS: One person who did that was Liz Cheney [crosstalk]— and Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans engineered her ouster from leadership and then [crosstalk] engineered her defeat. So is there any room in the Republican Party for when somebody says so?
PR: So, that's a good question. [crosstalk] I’d say it was more than just Liz. Six people voted for that second impeachment. I may get the vote wrong. [Ed: There were actually 10 Republicans who voted to impeach.] That's who I campaigned for. I don't do a lot of campaigning. I went down and campaigned for Tom Rice. We helped Peter Meijer’s campaign. You know, Jamie Herrera Butler, good friends. I wanted to make sure that those people survived and they didn't. Almost every one of them lost. A couple of them won. Or they left — Gonzalez, I recruited him.
CS: So what does that tell you about the future of this party?
PR: You know, it reminds me when you would say RINO on TMJ back in, I don't know, 2004….
CS: We're going way back now. [crosstalk]
PR: And you used the word RINO — and we all used it — it stands for Republican in Name Only, just for people who aren't diehard Republicans… So, what RINO meant in those days was a more moderate, liberal Republican versus conservative on a philosophical scale. Not a temperament, but a philosophical school. What RINO means today is — it's a pure fealty index to Trump. So if you have low fealty to Donald Trump, you're a RINO. If you have pure, great fealty to Donald Trump, you're a perfect Republican — that's kind of what's happened.
And so, we've gone from measuring people based on their philosophy or even their temperament to like a fealty index. That to me is very wrong and dangerous. So what the Trump crowd did was they went after all of these people. Liz is just the one everybody knows about, but there's about six or seven others who either just didn't run again because they didn't want to deal with it, or they got beat. And that to me is a very bad trend, very dangerous. I'm thankful and hopeful that this is gonna pass through I just hope it's a time.
CS: How shocked are you by what happened and how fast it happened?
PR: You're not talking about just January 6, but the party? I'm shocked. I'm pretty shocked, you know?