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Woster: Considering a doomed campaign and teachable moments on Twitter

Screenshot 2022-03-10 083554.jpg
Ryan Ryder

You want to ask him: “Ryan, what were you thinking?”

Apparently, Ryan Ryder wasn’t thinking about a run for Congress, at least not when he made the inappropriate comments on Twitter — a place where reason, propriety and common sense often go to die.

How inappropriate are we talking about? Well, for one, he joked about killing Dusty Johnson’s family, which is — of course — no joking matter.

It’s simply awful. Awful.

It doesn’t matter that Ryder says he has a sarcastic sense of humor and was, obviously, joking and not actually threatening.

It doesn’t matter that he was trying to make a point about Johnson not voting to censure a Republican member of Congress, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, for posting a video depicting violence against President Joe Biden and Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Gosar’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.

And it doesn’t matter that Ryder posted the “joke” on social media months and in some cases more than a year before he announced his run for Congress. Such things live on. Opposition researchers find them. And they find them fast.

It didn’t take Republican online bloodhounds long to find the Ryder “joke” about Johnson, along with another suggesting that it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters had gotten to Johnson in the U.S. Capitol that day. They also found a sophomoric Twitter comment from Ryder joking about pleasuring himself to a picture of Kristi Noem sent out by one of her staffers on Twitter.

Seriously? From an adult? And a would-be candidate for Congress?

There were a number of other comments by Ryder that were in similarly bad taste, making you wonder if anybody from the Democrats did any vetting at all here before they sent his campaign announcement out on their letterhead.

The Republicans sure did. And in this case, it all came out fast enough to make Ryan Ryder’s ill-fated congressional run a two-day affair.

Shortest campaign in state history? Maybe

Ryder announced his campaign last Wednesday and withdrew — with a very stiff push from the South Dakota Democratic Party — last Thursday.

The push came after the party briefly stood behind Ryder. Then smarter heads prevailed. Or smarter considerations, at least. Or just common sense.

It surely must be one of the shortest, if not the shortest, runs for statewide office in South Dakota history.

But it should be more than that. It should be one of those teachable moments we hear about, a lesson to those who would be candidates, and even to those who probably wouldn’t be: Stupid and inappropriate social-media comments can cost you. Lots.

They can cost you friends. They can cost you your job. They can cost you respect. And they can cost you a campaign for public office.

Ryder seems like a guy who would be smart enough to know all that. Smart enough, it would seem, to know better. He seems, at a superficial glance, like such an unlikely candidate for such a fate and such crude, offensive, self-destructing tweeting.

He’s a lawyer from Black Hawk and a U.S. Air Force veteran (thank you for your service, Ryan) who served as an assistant staff judge advocate officer (JAG) while with the Air Force. He also worked as a deputy state’s attorney for Pennington County after the military.

He is a husband and father of five who is involved in his church, in his kids’ education and in a variety of community service groups.

A solid citizen, then, one who seems committed to making this a better place to live. And also one with some ideas that would have been good to hear more about in a U.S. House campaign.

In making his announcement last Wednesday, Ryder said the right things. He said in a release from the state Democratic Party that, first, he respected second-term Republican Congressman Dusty Johnson. But Ryder also said he differed with Johnson on key issues, including Johnson’s vote against the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Ryder said the act was aimed at strengthening our Democracy, an argument that can surely be made and substantiated. I would like to have seen Ryder and Johnson debate that issue specifically.

Ryder also noted that Johnson voted against President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which will benefit South Dakota and other states badly in need of infrastructure upgrades.

Ryder called Johnson’s vote against the bill “a bad vote for South Dakota,” and argued that “South Dakota deserves a member of Congress who will put people over party every time.”

Johnson would probably argue that the infrastructure bill was bloated and inflationary and stuffed with pork, along with very good projects. In fact, I think he did argue that.

Ryder missed opportunity to raise legitimate issues in campaign

Whatever the arguments, I wish I could have seen Ryder make them and Johnson respond and followed the back-and-forth between the two. I would like to have seen where Ryder drew other differences and how he might have sought to exploit them in a run against Johnson, presuming — as I do — that Johnson wins the GOP primary election in June against Republican state Rep. Taffy Howard.

Ryder would have been a pronounced underdog against Johnson in the general election. But underdogs matter. They raise important issues and hold incumbents accountable.

Instead of that, we see the ashes of a short-lived congressional campaign. All because of stupid social-media comments.

That club has many members, by the way. They include some in what Wyoming GOP Congresswoman Liz Cheney calls the “Putin Wing of the Republican Party.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Josh Hawley are among those who seem to relish opportunities to say and do the inappropriate. And apparently they could be rewarded for it, rather than punished, if the Republicans retake the House this November and Kevin McCarthy becomes speaker.

Call it the Putin Wing or just the most rabid followers of Donald Trump, who leads the way for the party in saying and doing the unseemly. Either way, it’s easy to see why Ryan Ryder felt like some response was needed.

You can also understand his frustration at Johnson’s vote on the Gosar matter. After all, Gosar posted a photoshopped video to his Twitter and Instagram accounts showing a cartoon-like character representing him wielding a sword to kill a cartoon-like character representing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The video also shows the Gosar character attacking a Joe Biden character with two swords.

In November, the Democrat-controlled House voted 223-207 to censure Gosar and remove him from the House Oversight Reform and Natural Resources committees. Just two Republicans — Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with the Democrats to censure Gosar.

Cheney told reporters at the time: “The glorification of the suggestion of the killing of a colleague is completely unacceptable. And I think that it's a clear violation of House rules. I think it's a sad day.”

Johnson said the Gosar video was inappropriate and worthy of censure. But he said stripping Gosar of his committee assignments went too far. He couldn’t support that.

GOP handshakes and hugs for Gosar on the floor of the U.S. House 

It’s true, Gosar’s cartoon-like videos of him committing acts of violence against a colleague and the president did cost him something. For now. But as the censure and committee removals against Gosar were taking place, he was supported by some Republican colleagues (not including Johnson) with handshakes and hugs. On the House floor.

So it was a censure moment for Democrats and a “way-to-go-Paul” moment for many Republicans.

And if Republicans take control of the House, you can bet Rep. Gosar will get his committee assignments back, or maybe better ones.

So the lesson from Republicans in the House seems to be: We’re OK with what Paul Gosar did.

Meanwhile here in South Dakota, the message from the Democratic Party, after some initial equivocation, seems to be: We’re not at all OK with what Ryan Ryder did.

They shouldn’t be.

So there were two teachable moments, although I’m not sure how much was taught.

The Republican Party — or at least the leadership in the U.S. House — seems likely to restore Gosar’s committee assignments once the GOP is back in power. Lesson learned? Not so much.

The Democratic Party did the right thing in encouraging Ryder to withdraw. And Ryder did the right thing in withdrawing.

But did he learn from the teachable moment? In his withdrawal statement, Ryder said his tweets were “a poor attempt at sarcastic humor.” And he apologized to the South Dakota Democratic Party and “anyone else for whom these tweets reflected badly.”

Oddly enough, he didn’t mention Johnson. And maybe he has apologized directly or at least specifically to the congressman. I haven’t seen it. And if he hasn’t, he should.

Ryder also said he recognizes now that the tweets in question “appear to cross the line.”

Appear? Seriously? Appear?

Yeah, no, they don’t just appear to cross the line. They roar across the line at high speed.

If Ryan Ryder doesn’t understand that, he might have more in common with Paul Gosar than he’d like to admit.