Pandering in politics is a matter of course; politics is pandering, which is probably something some political scientist said 70 years ago. But sports are good, real, and serious business, which makes Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s sports pandering extremely offensive.
Speaking at the Texas delegation’s breakfast at the Republican National Convention this morning, Ryan sought a clever, easily digestible metaphor to express why delegates should set aside their differences—Texas voted for home state senator Ted Cruz in March’s Republican primary—and unite behind Donald Trump. Here’s what he came up with:
That’s not how it works! College sports bring out the strongest tribal loyalties, where it’s almost as enjoyable to watch your bitter rival lose as it is to watch your team win. There is nobody more petty, homerish, and vindictive than a college football fan: it’s actually really fun. Every Texas A&M fan was rooting for Texas to lose to, not beat, Alabama in the 2010 BCS Championship Game.
This is far from the first time Paul Ryan has embarrassingly used sports in an attempt to bolster his prospects or pander to voters from certain districts. Every time he’s done so, he’s basically come off like Steve Buscemi on 30 Rock trying to impersonate the youths.
Anyway, here’s a probably incomplete history of Paul Ryan’s sports pandering:
Campaigning as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick in 2012, Ryan waved a bright yellow Steelers Terrible Towel while walking onto the stage at a campaign stop in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, even though the Janesville, Wisconsin native has long claimed to be a diehard Green Bay Packers fan, and is even a Packers stockholder. Just 18 months before the campaign stop, “his” Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Predictably, as the video above shows, his pandering wasn’t well received.
In a radio interview, fitness-enthusiast Ryan claimed to have run a marathon in “two hour[s] and fifty-something” minutes. But Runner’s World dug into the story and discovered that Ryan had actually only ever completed a single marathon, in just over four hours—a full hour slower than he originally claimed. The New Yorker followed up by calling everybody who had finished around Ryan at that marathon 22 years prior, and found that they all remembered their times pretty accurately.
At the Browns practice facility to pander to Ohioans, Ryan praised QB Brandon Weeden, and claimed to have watched him play at Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, he said this while pointing at Colt McCoy, the second time he screwed up trying to identify Brandon Weeden.
A Miami of Ohio graduate, Ryan attended their 2012 season opener against in-state powerhouse Ohio State. But while flipping burgers he led the famous Ohio State OH-IO cheer, and then left with his alma mater up 3-0.
Asked on the Today show a month before the 2012 election who he thought would win a football game between Wisconsin and Ohio State, Ryan declined to take the Badgers, the home state team, probably because Ohio was a battleground state. (It didn’t work; Barack Obama won Ohio by three percentage points.)
The next year he was more than happy to root for the Badgers over the Buckeyes:
And became a big Badgers believer:
They aren’t pandering per se—though they probably made inroads with the elusive P90X voter—but no catalogue of sports-related Ryan moments would be complete without a reference to those very strange photos of Ryan lifting weights in a very cool backwards hat.
Ryan’s exhortation that Aggie fans support the Longhorns wasn’t his first faux pas at the RNC. Speaking to the delegation from Pennsylvania yesterday, Ryan once again waved a Terrible Towel, and predicated a Packers-Steelers Super Bowl.
Besides the fact that the convention is taking place in Cleveland—home of the Browns, one of the Steelers’ division rivals—the Steelers, by at least one accounting, aren’t even the most popular NFL team in Pennsylvania.
The one thing you can say for Ryan? At least he hasn’t referred to a “basketball ring”—yet.