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Ground Game

Is Trump silencing Ryan like he did Romney?

It's becoming increasingly clear that President Trump is trying to make Paul Ryan the fall guy for the failure of the health care replacement bill.
It's becoming increasingly clear that President Trump is trying to make Paul Ryan the fall guy for the failure of the health care replacement bill. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If you follow the logic of an unnamed White House staffer in the Atlantic, the whole idea that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was being considered to be President Trump's secretary of state was a ruse from the beginning.

Romney was one of Trump's biggest critics before the election. And after Trump declined to pick him for secretary of state, how could he criticize Trump going forward and not have it look like sour grapes?

“ ‘Judas Iscariot got 30 pieces of silver; Mitt Romney got a dish of frog legs at Jean-Georges. And even at that, it was the appetizer portion,’ a high-ranking White House official told me. ‘We’ve sort of taken out his larynx — how can he criticize [Trump] now?’ ”

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This might be a telling lesson for House Speaker Paul Ryan. It's becoming increasingly clear that Trump is trying to make Ryan the fall guy for the failure of the health care replacement bill. If Trump is successful, the larger point will be this: Ryan can't even lead House Republicans, so what power does he actually have?

The undercutting of Ryan, a Republican rival power center, might not have been the genuine goal when the health care replacement bill rollout began. Indeed, at the moment it was announced, you could argue that Ryan and Trump had never been closer politically.

Still, the bill was unveiled by Ryan. It was his plan. If it passed, then maybe Trump would try to get all the credit. But now that it looks like it's failing, Trump appears to want Ryan to take all the blame.

It's probably no coincidence that Trump adviser Steve Bannon's past publication, Brietbart, decided this week to release a tape of Ryan distancing himself from Trump in October. In audio published by the conservative news website, Ryan told Republican House members that he would not defend Trump then or in the future.

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It's clear that Trump isn't planning a hard sell on the health care plan to his base either. When Trump visited Detroit Wednesday, he didn't even mention it. And in Nashville Wednesday night, it took him 20 minutes to bring it up at a rally.

It's hard to see how Ryan gets out of this pickle. But if Trump really wants something done on health care, Ryan has made it so much easier for Trump to call up Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and say, “Let's make a deal.”

Trump wouldn't be selling out, mind you. It would be Ryan's fault. And what can he — or Romney — say now?


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell., or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: www.bostonglobe.com/groundgame.