Imagine the agony of Paul Ryan now.
Yesterday the House Speaker, America’s top ranking elected Republican, said he would never again campaign with or for Donald Trump and would no longer defend him, in the wake of the now-infamous video released last Friday. But, Ryan said dissonantly, he was not withdrawing his endorsement of Trump. Was he being hypocritical? Cowardly? Commentators on the left and right quickly said so. But before condemning Ryan, let’s think about the cruel dilemma he faces. It’s of a type that confronts many top-level leaders.
For seven months Ryan has been writhing in his struggle to reconcile his obvious loathing of Trump with his responsibilities as the country’s top Republican. Ryan is clearly appalled by about 80% of everything Trump says and would presumably love to say so. His failure to do it has been branded as weakness, an unwillingness to choose the painful but honorable course when confronted with a difficult choice. The Harvard Business School’s Gautam Mukunda argued this view explicitly in a valuable article on beliefs vs. values at the Harvard Business Review’s website last summer.
But in a case like Ryan’s, this line of argument omits an important element. Ryan holds limited authority over all the Republicans in the House, where they are the majority. If we do him the courtesy of assuming he wants what’s best for the country, and that he sincerely believes mainstream Republican policies are generally best, then he rightly wants to preserve the Republican majority. For him, denouncing Trump isn’t analogous to a CEO firing a manager who produces good results in bad ways; Ryan isn’t CEO of anything, and he can’t hire or fire officeholders (let alone Trump). Denouncing Trump could antagonize millions of Trump supporters whose votes are needed by Republican representatives, potentially surrendering his party’s control of the House. By doing so, he would have benefited no one whom it was his duty to benefit. Of course he could have resigned – he never wanted to be Speaker anyway – and then vented to his heart’s content. But that would have achieved nothing.
Yes, this type of argument – I would have been happy to sacrifice myself, but I owed duties to others – can by used to justify all kinds of malignant behavior. It can also be valid and honorable. In light of Ryan’s high reputation among legislators of both parties, I’m inclined to believe he isn’t being selfish or hypocritical in taking the tortured position he has adopted regarding Trump. I suspect he’s doing his best in an impossible situation, sure to be savaged no matter what he does. Part of a leader’s job is living with circumstances in which all of one’s alternatives are bad.
Significant but overlooked in Sunday night’s presidential debate was Trump’s statement to Hillary Clinton that “if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.” Many lawyers found it extraordinary. To understand why, please see this analysis by Fortune’s Roger Parloff. If the law isn’t your field, I can promise you’ll be enlightened.
New on this week’s Fortune Unfiltered with Aaron Task: a conversation with Bethenny Frankel, reality TV personality and founder of Skinnygirl. Who’s she, and what’s Skinnygirl? If you don’t know, you’ll be glad you found out: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fortune-unfiltered-aaron-task/id1135636641?mt=2/listen#/ps/I3c74wdipy2osrynfayuij5v7jm
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What We’re Reading Today
Wells Fargo consolidates around COO
The troubled bank has shifted more oversight to COO Tim Sloan, previously designated as heir apparent to CEO John Stumpf. Wells expanded or created three new management roles, all of which now report to Sloan. Stumpf has struggled in responding effectively to the fake-accounts scandal and reports of a high-pressure sales culture. American Banker
Samsung ends production of Note 7
Instead of a second recall to fix replacement Galaxy Note 7s, which are showing the same overheating problems as the first version, Oh-Hyun Kwon‘s company will end production. Customers will likely receive refunds or exchanges. The damage to the company is huge — billions in direct costs, the loss of an effective competitor to Apple’s iPhone 7, and brand damage that could last years. BBC
Theranos sued for securities fraud
San Francisco hedge fund Partner Fund Management says Elizabeth Holmes‘s company lied in order to raise nearly $100 million of capital. The suit claims Holmes and COO Sunny Balwani overstated the various tests the company’s technology could perform. Theranos denies the accusations. Fortune
Salesforce could yet buy Twitter
As many suitors for Jack Dorsey‘s Twitter bowed out, investors grew pessimistic that the social media company could find a buyer. But Marc Benioff‘s Salesforce remains interested. While executives of both companies continue to discuss details of a deal, some Salesforce investors have signaled disapproval of a merger. NYT
Building a Better Leader
Sh@*! Millennials more likely to swear in the office
Two out of three say they curse at work, and nearly 75% of millennial women in management admit to swearing vs. 58% of all Gen-Xer and Boomer managers. Daily Mail
To gauge whether to invest in an early-round startup…
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Employees can now sell back their unused vacation time
PTO Exchange is a startup that lets employees sell unused vacation time back to their employer in return for travel or contributions to 401k and health savings accounts. Bloomberg
Buffett responds to Trump accusation
Fighting criticism over not paying income taxes for nearly 20 years, Donald Trump said Warren Buffett has also used tax-loss carryforwards. Buffett fired back, saying he has never used carryforwards and has copies of all his tax returns since 1944 to prove it. He also provided details about his tax history; he paid $1,845,577 in federal income tax last year on adjusted gross income of $11,563,931. USA Today
New email leaks reveal tension over Clinton Foundation
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Could Trump prosecute Hillary?
Trump said in Sunday’s debate that if elected he would instruct his Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton. But former AGs of both parties say no AG is required to obey such an order. The president can ask the AG, who would consider the proposal. But forcing the AG to attack a political rival is what you find in “banana republics,” says Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. Fortune
Up or Out
Cisco CTO Zorawar Biri Singh will leave by the end of the month. Fortune
Fortune Reads and Videos
Verizon still intends to buy Yahoo
But Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said the company may try to renegotiate the $4.8-billion price because of the recently disclosed hack into the accounts of 500 million Yahoo users. Fortune
Tyson Foods invests in…
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JC Penney’s latest tactic to revive interest
The department store will deploy greeters to welcome shoppers. Fortune
Presidential debate viewership declines nearly 25%
Over 63 million households tuned in, a big drop from the record-setting audience of the first debate. Fortune
PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel turns 49 today. CrunchBase