Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > A Conversation With Paul Ryan and Harold Ford Jr.

A Conversation With Paul Ryan and Harold Ford Jr.

May 29, 2024

Top Takeaways from Ryan:

  • Leaders need to actively call out misinformation before it “bleeds into” legislation and policy.
  • The next White House needs to take the debt crisis seriously and not ignore the problem.
  • The current crisis in the Middle East must be dealt with swiftly, and Ukraine support should continue.


The former House Speaker said he is concerned that members of Congress are too focused on politics for fame and entertainment rather than creating policy and that leaders are not willing to make the decisions necessary to address huge issues like the debt crisis.

Ryan, in conversation with former Congressional Representative and PNC Bank New York Regional President Harold Ford Jr., came before a crowded room at the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference on May 29. Ryan told the audience that members of both parties are relying too much “on populism for the sake of winning.” He also spoke about current foreign policy and why the impending national debt crisis needs to be at the forefront of the next president’s policies.

On Keeping Constituents Informed

Leaders today have to make sure that they and their constituents base their information on real news and data and are open to other viewpoints and sources, Ryan said.

“If you are a speaker or a president, I think what you have to worry about right in front of you is the information your members are getting accurate information,” Ryan told the packed crowd. “Are they making decisions based on truth and reality, or are they going down some rabbit hole?”

Algorithms that deliver your news feed your biases, and reinforcing your beliefs and pitting you against others, he said. “That’s a modern democracy 21st-century problem, and I think the key thing is, as a leader, to make sure that you call it all out.”

He said that if leaders see “weird conspiracy theories” developing in their ranks, they need to be prepared to “get it in its infancy” before it “bleeds into legislation and informs positions.” “If you let these things fester and go on because you are too afraid to take people on,” Ryan said, “then you are going to have a serious problem on your hands. Regrettably, there is a lot of that — on both sides, by the way.”

Ryan called it worrying that some members of Congress seem to be into their positions more for fame or their brand than creating policies to legislate and solve the nation’s problems.

“This day and age, you can get famous pretty easily,” he said. “You can become famous on day two in Congress if you are sensational, if you are entertaining, if you are provocative, if you are really good with your thumbs and social media.”

This comes at the cost of solving the most pressing problems facing the country, he said.

“The entertainment wing of the Democratic party and the entertainment wing of the Republican party are swelling in their ranks,” Ryan said. “If your goal is to curate a brand for yourself, and that brand, inevitably, is to be pure on your side of the aisle, that means you can’t compromise. You can’t find consensus.”

On What Should Be on the New President’s To-do List

Ryan said the next president should make the debt crisis a top priority.

“Who gets hurt the first and the worst are the poor and the elderly in a debt crisis,” he said.

Doing nothing and letting Medicare and Social Security go bankrupt will harm seniors, damage the debt market, hurt our economy, and hurt the people reliant on the safety net, Ryan said. But neither presidential candidate is willing to take this on, he added.

“Getting ahead of it and trying to solve that problem, messaging it, that’s what leaders do,” he said. “And that’s unfortunately not what we have today.”

“My worry is we don’t have serious politics right now that are addressing some of the fundamentally most important problems in front of us as a country,” he continued. “I could say the same thing for immigration laws; they are all screwed up, too. We don’t have political leadership there, but that’s there to do it. The question is, can we muster it? Can we get it?”

The timing for the new president is going to be critical, and the situation must be met head-on, as the current economic trajectory “could end with the dollar being debased,” he said.

“That is a moment that is very conceivable within the next presidency,” he said. “So, what you would like to have is serious and sober politics that see this most predictable crisis coming in front of us, step in front of it, and do something about it. That’s not happening. Both of these guys running for president are campaigning against it.”

On Foreign Policy and Issues

As for foreign policy, Ryan said whether or not there is a ceasefire in Gaza before the next election will depend on whether or not Rafah is cleared.

“You cannot allow the Hamas leadership to persist. This is existential to Israel,” Ryan said, adding that he feels President Biden should have acted more swiftly and aggressively.

“If the Israelis could have gotten on this faster, it could have been over sooner,” he said. “The last thing we should do as a country is incentivize terrorist groups to use civilians as human shields. We don’t want to reward that. … If we reward that behavior, we get more of that behavior.”

As for policy with Russia, Ryan said he feels Putin is betting on Trump cutting Ukraine support. He thinks the new president should do the opposite. “So, I think you do first thing, which is double down on our support of Ukraine, and you show that we are going to stick out for our Ukraine partners.”

Ryan said for Chinese economic policy, “decoupling is coming.” He said it is one area where there is bipartisan support. “This is Cold War 2.0. We are going to fight this. It’s the one thing I’m pretty confident [about] us coming together as a country.”

This session was sponsored by Delta Air Lines.