During a 2019 appearance on The Breakfast Club, a liberal talk show hosted by rapper Charlamagne tha God, Democrat Tim Ryan (Ohio) was asked whether he believes in a conspiracy theory regarding collusion between large food corporations and the pharmaceutical industry.
"You think the food industry and the health care industry are working hand in hand?" the rapper asked Ryan, explaining his belief that "certain foods are making people sick and then the health care industry is giving the medicine to treat it." Another host specifically brought up the "Got Milk?" campaign, although it is unclear what exactly she was getting at.
But Ryan entertained the notions. "Yeah, it's hard to tell what's going on behind the scenes," Ryan said. "What I do know is they're making a lot of money."
The response is part of a pattern for Ryan, who has a tendency to agree with whatever is presented to him. The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that Ryan during his first run for Congress in 2002 promised an interviewer that he would open an investigation into whether the federal government created HIV to kill black people, a baseless conspiracy theory that has been used to fuel anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiment around the world.
His tendency to say "yes" to whomever he's speaking with, however, doesn't only apply to bizarre conspiracy theories. The desire to agree has led Ryan to adopt far-left positions in interviews on issues ranging from criminal justice to immigration. That's a problem for Ryan, who is now attempting to portray himself as moderate. A Free Beacon review of Ryan's 20-year career in Congress found a lawmaker on every side of the issues resulting in an ideologically incoherent record.
Ryan was pressed, for example, during a 2019 interview with the far-left talk show hosts at The Young Turks for being to the right of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). He responded that he was as liberal as it gets.
"I've been on Medicare for All bill since 2007 … before it was cool," Ryan said. "People say, ‘He's a corporate guy.' I've voted against every tax cut. … I'm on the Medicare for All bill, right, I'm on the debt-free and free college bill."
Ryan this year has abandoned almost all of those positions. On health care, Ryan is vague about what kind of system he supports. Ryan's Senate campaign website says he backs lowering the age of Medicare eligibility and creating a public option. At a campaign stop in March, Ryan said he's no longer interested in "taking anybody's health care away that they have and they like."
On student debt, Ryan now says President Joe Biden's executive order to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of student debt "sends the wrong message." His campaign told the Free Beacon earlier this year that he has remained consistent on the issue of student loan forgiveness.
On crime, Ryan is telling Ohio voters he's in favor of boosting police department budgets with federal grant money. But in the midst of his failed presidential bid just a few years ago, Ryan called for one million criminals to be released from prison and for eliminating cash bail—two policy proposals absent from his campaign website.
During a 2019 interview with PBS, also while Ryan was running for president, Ryan said he was in "lockstep with all progressives" on immigration. Footage from a candidate town hall in New Hampshire that same year shows Ryan pledging to a self-described "ACLU voter" that as president he would pressure local law enforcement groups to end the practice of detaining illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
Ryan's shifting positions have become a recurring theme of attacks from his Republican opponent, J.D. Vance, who has portrayed Ryan as an ineffective legislator for Ohio.
"My simple argument is this: that Tim Ryan's had his chance," Vance said in a debate earlier this month. "He's been in office for 20 years. He's passed five pieces of legislation; three of those pieces of legislation were renaming post offices."
Recent polling shows Vance expanding his lead over Ryan. A RealClearPolitics average of polls show Ohio voters favoring Vance by 2.3 points. The two will face off in November for the Senate seat held by the retiring Rob Portman.