MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, we don't want to end the program without at least trying to sort through a couple of the big political stories of the past week here in Washington. It started with an FBI raid at an office and hotel room of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Midweek, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he will not seek re-election. We saw another flare-up of the feud between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, who you may have heard about this, has a book coming out. So we're having a kind of abbreviated Barbershop this week with Gayle Trotter. You can find her thoughts at the conservative blog Right In DC. She's here with us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Welcome back, Gayle.
GAYLE TROTTER: Great to be with you.
MARTIN: Also joining us from member station WUWM in Milwaukee, W.I., Charlie Sykes. He is an author and a longtime conservative talk show host based in Wisconsin. Charlie Sykes, welcome back to you as well.
CHARLIE SYKES: Good to be back.
MARTIN: So, let's start with what in normal times would have been a huge political story, the speaker of the House resigning, not because he's running for something else - at least that's what he says - but because he says he wants to see more of his family. I'm not mad at him for that.
So, Charlie, I'm going to go to you first because you're based in Wisconsin. You've followed Paul Ryan's career for a long time. Do you - I hate to put it in such a cynical way, but do you buy that that's why he's leaving because he really does want to spend more time with his family? And I also want to ask, is this a blow to the party's hopes to hold on to the House this November?
SYKES: Well, I've known Paul Ryan for more than 20 years. So, yes, when he says he wants to spend more time with his family, he is sincere about that. But, of course, there's more to that story. Basically - and I was talking to somebody very close to Paul about this yesterday. And he said, look, you know, Ryan is fed up. And there was nothing redeeming on the horizon to keep him around. The - you know, think about how hard it is to be a speaker in this environment. You have an uncontrollable caucus. You have an undisciplined, erratic president. So he's caught there, and all of these compromises, all of these attempts to appease the Trumpists have, you know, ultimately failed.
How big a blow does it give to the Republicans? I will admit to you that I was surprised that he decided to leave now because of the way that it will feed that narrative of the big blue wave. It will embolden Democrats, and it will demoralize fellow Republicans. Look. He's the most-prolific fundraiser the party has had. And he represents an image of the party that, you know, stands in contrast to what I think most people are now thinking about Republicans. So there's no way that you can really spin this as good news for Republicans, particularly those who want to keep the Republican majority in the house.
MARTIN: So Gayle is right here. She doesn't look demoralized. I don't know. Gayle, tell me, how significant is this?
TROTTER: I would disagree. I think Charlie is in agreement with many in the liberal media who consider Paul Ryan's retirement announcement a blow to conservatives. But, in fact, many were disappointed that Paul Ryan was unable to deliver what they elected President Trump to do. And you can just look at his failure on Obamacare. He was part of the Republicans in Congress saying give us the House, we'll repeal Obamacare. Give us the Senate, we'll repeal Obamacare. Give us the White House, we'll repeal Obamacare. Big failure, biggest failure of Paul Ryan.
Look at fiscal responsibility. He's known for advocating fiscal responsibility. And looking at the bill that he put - the omnibus bill that he put on President Trump's desk a month ago, it swelled the deficit, the debt. And it funded things that Republicans and many Americans find offensive like Planned Parenthood.
MARTIN: So is this a personal failure of his, Gayle? I mean, because it's true that - we'll call it other observers in the media. We won't embrace your term. But we'll say that there are those who say that...
TROTTER: That was with no judgment.
MARTIN: OK. A, he was a hypocrite because he did preside over this kind of ballooning of the deficit. But others say that he brought clarity and focus to the party's position on entitlements, that he was unwavering in saying that that is - should be the focus of the party. I mean, was this a personal failure of his?
TROTTER: It's a leadership failure, not a personal failure. And what Charlie said, I'm sure he does want to spend more time with his family, but that's a Washingtonian trope that when someone steps down from a position of power or influence that they want to spend time with their family.
SYKES: Can I respond to that?
MARTIN: Sure, of course.
SYKES: Because what you just heard is absurd on so many different levels because the reality is is that the failure of leadership is the leadership of the president. The buck stops there. In terms of Obamacare, I don't think our memories are so short. It was the Senate that failed to repeal Obamacare. Paul Ryan actually delivered in effect. If it wasn't for Paul Ryan, Donald Trump would have absolutely zero legislative accomplishments. You would not have had the tax reform without Paul Ryan. In Trump world, apparently, the buck stops with everybody else.
Now in terms of the deficit, I do think that that's a tremendous failure, and I think the flip-flop on fiscal conservatism is going to haunt them. But keep in mind, when you have a president who says I am the king of debt, who signs the omnibus, who in fact has made it very clear he's not interested in entitlement reform, it is more than a little disingenuous to suggest somehow that that's Paul Ryan's failure. But now it is Donald Trump's party and he won't have anybody else to blame.
MARTIN: OK, we only have a minute left, so I do want to ask you about the FBI. And the FBI director's book is coming out. This kind of increasingly kind of ugly feud, which has now been sort of taken on by the RNC, which even has a website to criticize Mr. Comey. So, Gayle and Charlie, we only have about 40 seconds left. Gayle, are you going to read the book, and if so, what are you interested in in that book?
TROTTER: Yes, I will read the book. There's no question that President Trump has the authority to fire Mueller and Rosenstein, and that is something that conservatives are split on whether or not he should do it. It's a political calculation.
MARTIN: OK. Charlie, you're going to read the book, and if so, what are you interested in?
SYKES: Well, I'm interested in the picture that it paints of a president who is, in fact, untethered from the truth. And it will be a major test to see whether or not Republicans are willing to stand up for the rule of law or whether or not they're going to continue to be complicit into this ongoing rolling attempt to instruct - to obstruct this investigation into the president's conduct.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, we don't have more time for this conversation. It's interesting to hear a conversation on the conservative side that is as focused and sharp as it is, so, let me put it that way. That was Charlie Sykes. He's an author, longtime conservative talk show host based in Wisconsin. Gayle Trotter is an author of the Right In DC blog. Thank you both so much for talking to us.
TROTTER: My pleasure.
SYKES: Thank you.
MARTIN: For Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're back tomorrow. Thank you for listening. We hope you have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.