‘Hey, everybody, how about it, huh?’ Paul Ryan said, coming onto a stage decorated with hay bales and pumpkins in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on the afternoon of 9 October. ‘Man, good day! Good to see you, what a beautiful day, huh? Welcome to Fall Fest, you guys! Welcome to Fall Fest! Look, let me just start off by saying, there is a bit of an elephant in the room. And it is a troubling situation. I’m serious, it is. I put out a statement about this last night. I meant what I said and it’s still how I feel.’ The previous day, Ryan had disinvited Donald Trump from his home state rally after the release of the 2005 tape on which Trump bragged about kissing and groping women. It was the culmination of the long festering feud between the Republican establishment’s pseudo-intellectual leader, the eminently respectable speaker of the House, and the party’s heretical blowhard presidential nominee. ‘But that is not what we’re here to talk about today,’ Ryan continued. ‘You know what we do here at Fall Fest? We talk about our ideas.’ Republican ideas – usually summarised as ‘freedom’ and ‘individual liberty’, reliable code for cutting benefits and pursuing privatisation – are what Ryan is a champion of. The national media has long been happy to repeat the Ryan-as-brainiac myth, somehow traceable to his deep reading of the works of Ayn Rand. One Wisconsin native explained it to me differently: ‘He’s a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.’
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