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Paul Ryan discusses COVID-19, international relations, conservatism

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Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan endorsed the current economic policy response to coronavirus, but he criticized the president’s foreign policy and populist support in a talk on Thursday. 

The event was organized by Colton Malkerson MBA ’20, former director of operations for Paul Ryan and co-president of the Graduate School of Business Adam Smith Society and the Government and Politics Club. As with other events, Thursday’s event had to be shifted to a virtual format.

“Ideally, we’d have Speaker Ryan visit campus in person, but given that wasn’t possible this spring due to Coronavirus, we had to adapt,” Malkerson wrote in an email to The Daily.

The event covered government responses to COVID-19, immigration and tax reform, trade and the future of the Repulican Party. 

Ryan insisted that “we have to start the economy back up” once we have greater capacity in healthcare and more widespread testing, though he believes the current policy response to COVID-19-related economic disruption is appropriate.  

“This one quarter’s worth of artificial economic stimulus, levitation, of the government putting in five, six, trillion dollars in place of real economic activity, can only be done for so long,” he said. “And you will not be able to sustain this much longer.”

Once the situation normalizes, state reimbursements, regulatory relief, tax incentives, testing and healthcare related items should all be considered by the U.S. government, Ryan said. He also endorsed a payroll tax cut, a move the Trump administration proposed in March.

“[We need] something that encourages people to go from unemployment to work,” Ryan said, “because you’re going to have long-term unemployment checks, and then something that lowers the marginal [tax] rate. And I think the payroll tax cut is the best idea I’ve seen out there that also gets a demand-side issue dealt with.”

On international relations, Ryan said Trump should not have clashed with U.S. allies, and that the U.S. should now take the lead in global trade. 

“The key going forward is to get good deals with our allies, merge our allies, and we should go get [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] now,” Ryan said. “Frankly, because we have a new NAFTA, it’s not that hard to take one or two more steps to get TPP going, it’s very good China policy, and I think we need to do more to lead NATO and to lead democracies.”

He called the trade war with Beijing “necessary,” however, and called for a decoupling from China. 

“This China, Wuhan, virus challenge is a wake-up call to the free world that we should take to rally the free world and make sure that we can promote standards of decency, of democracy, of human rights and of security cooperation,” he said. 

The use of the term “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” to describe COVID-19 has been criticized for having racist and xenophobic connotations, though Trump and other members of the administration have continued using the term. 

Ryan also addressed the development of the Republican Party and denounced the populism that helped Trump win the presidency in 2016. 

“The populist said, ‘You Reagan, classical liberal, traditional conservative guys, it’s not working with you, we’re going to go full scale populism and put together our own identity political coalition and see if we can win with that,’” Ryan said. “And the ultimate populist, Donald Trump, beat all the mini populists.”

He said that this is not an effective way for Republicans to move forward. 

“We need to be, in my opinion, aspirational, inclusive, optimistic, we need policies that speak to people’s anxieties,” Ryan said. “The forgotten man, which was the low-income worker who was stuck with declining living standards, needs to be addressed and dealt with and appealed to.”

In closing, Ryan encouraged the graduating class of 2020 to stay confident in their abilities to make an impact, even at a young age. 

“Find out what your passion is,” Ryan said. “Go chase it. If it doesn’t work, then do it again, and do it again, and do it again. That’s the great thing about failure in a free society like ours. You’ll get wisdom out of it, and you’ll be more successful next time around.”

Contact Enya Lu at enyalu ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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