Donald Trump refused to endorse Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary election on Tuesday, drawing attention to Paul Nehlen, Ryan’s insurgent challenger, who has adopted many of the same themes as the real estate mogul.
While stopping short of endorsing Nehlen, Trump credited him with running a “very good campaign.” The primary is on August 9. The two recently had a warm exchange on Twitter:
In many ways, Nehlen is evidence that Trump’s messaging has found its footing in down-ticket Republican races.
“Paul Ryan is the most…pro-Wall Street, anti-worker Member of either party of Congress,” Nehlen shouted during a rally outside Ryan’s palatial home in Janesville, Wisc., this summer.
By contrast, a vote for Nehlen was a vote for someone who would “never sit in a board room with Goldman Sachs executives. It’s a vote for every person who never got to go out for a steak dinner with lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
Like Trump, Nehlen rails against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that would expand corporate rights at the expense of affordable medicines and environmental protections. In June, Nehlen said that the TPP alone was enough reason to run against Ryan, saying it would cause the “fundamental undoing of America.”
And like Trump, Nehlen has made anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments a cornerstone of his campaign. He is running ads filmed on the U.S.-Mexico border, complaining that the border is porous and “isn’t going to stop ISIS,” thanks to inaction from Ryan:
One area where Nehlen breaks from Trump is in his critique of the surveillance state. On his website’s issues page, Nehlen criticizes Ryan for backing legislation that expands the federal government’s ability to detain citizens without due process and warrantless surveillance.
Nehlen’s website includes detailed criticisms of Ryan’s closeness with the pharmaceutical lobby and the Koch Brothers – not something you’d see in a traditional Republican campaign.
All of these critiques of Ryan are part of a populist theme: Ryan works for a moneyed and secretive elite that is eager to use cheap labor and international agreements to undercut American workers – not the average American. It’s a message that is rooted in at least some truth. In October, for instance, Ryan brought on a chief of staff who made big bucks on K Street and who pushed for the TPP on behalf of his client, the Ford Motor Company.
Polling on the race is sparse, but a July poll showed Ryan with a wide lead.
This hasn’t stopped conservative thought leaders from jumping behind Nehlen, however. Right-wing author Michelle Malkin held a rally for Nehlen in May; Ann Coulter will be joining him on Saturday. Wisconsin is also an open primary state, meaning that Democrats and independents could easily join primary voters in voting against Ryan.
Ryan bases his political philosophy on that of Ayn Rand, the “objectivist” philosopher who preached that altruism was inherently immoral and that the greatest moral good was the free market.
Ryan has in the past worried that this ideology is being replaced by something else. Addressing hundreds of six-figure Koch network donors in late July, Ryan’s tone was grim.
“We are flirting with various forms of progressivism, and there are Republican forms of progressivism. Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican,” Ryan said. “We have to thoroughly debunk it, repudiate it.”
UPDATE at 2:46 p.m. ET:
Nehlen’s position on American Muslims appears to be even more extreme than Trump’s. Asked on Monday by a radio host whether he would support deporting all American Muslims. Nehlen didn’t say no. “I’m suggesting we have a discussion about it, that’s for sure,” he said. He went on to suggest “monitoring every mosque…all social media” to locate Muslim terrorists.
Top Photo: Ryan speaking at the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016.