October 8, 2015
Before Bobby Jindal, before Scott Walker, before Marco Rubio, there was Paul Ryan, the first of the Reagan Generation to become a household name among conservative Republicans.
Raised by Jack Kemp, while a young congressional aide as a pro-growth, pro-opportunity, Big Tent Republican, developed over several terms in the House as a budget and deficit control expert, Ryan was a popular wish list presidential candidate in 2011.
As we know, he wound up as Mitt Romney’s number two and made less of an impact than many of his supporters hoped. It’s hard for a VP candidate to stand out unless they do something truly wrong, and Ryan’s Wisconsin-nice delivery doesn’t lead itself to hatchet-man bombast. A keyed up Joe Biden got the best of him in the debate.
He is now the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the handful of truly powerful congressional positions. Controlling the financial levers, this puts Ryan in a position to push back against Obama Administration spending, as well as some of his own GOP colleagues.
For the previous two congresses, Ryan served as Budget Chairman, during a time where federal spending as a percentage of GDP dropped faster than any time since World War II. A large part of the credit goes to the controversial sequester deal worked out by the departing Speaker Boehner, but Ryan was a driving force.
Young enough (44) to appeal to the newer generation, experienced enough (9th term) to find his way around/through procedural and parliamentary issues, respected by moderates, strong conservatives and Democrats, he’s easily the best and most qualified choice.
But he won’t run. He wouldn’t run when Boehner stepped aside, moving quickly to endorse Kevin McCarthy. With Captain Benghazi’s implosion, he’s still saying no.
Paul Ryan does not enjoy directly challenging other Republicans. His refusal to campaign for Speaker is consistent with not running for president in the 2012 or 2016 cycles. It’s not his thing.
This doesn’t make him weak. Ryan was the Republicans most vocal and effective advocate during the Obamacare debate. It’s in part due to Ryan that the president was forced to use unusual measures to pass the legislation.
He regularly and easily wins re-election from a light red district in Wisconsin without compromising a very conservative voting record. On Sunday shows, he’s more of an advocate than Boehner, not clumsy like McCarthy just was. But he won’t run.
This is an opportunity for Ryan and an opportunity for the House GOP. It won’t come around again. It’s not likely Ryan will get himself to run for president in the future. Politicians don’t magically grow extra ambition after 20 years, you’re either wired that way (hello Jason Chaffetz, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) or not.
By the time 2020 or 2024 rolls around, Ryan will have spent more than 20 years in the House. The next time someone with that resume gets elected president will be the first.
With the possible exception of Jeb Hensarling, the GOP doesn’t have any other great options. Chaffetz is more capable than some are giving him credit for, but he’s filling a vacuum, not auditioning as Sam Rayburn 2.0. Daniel Webster has slightly more energy than his namesake. Given the original Webster is 150+ years deceased, this isn’t a ringing endorsement.
I’ve always given Ryan the benefit of the doubt on his career choices. Running for president sucks, so as the saying goes, you have to question the sanity of anyone willing to. By nature, many of the best, least absurdly ambitious choices stay away.
He wasn’t going to challenge Boehner. Supporting heir-apparent McCarthy made sense too. Unless he’s 110% sure Webster would serve and lead effectively and the idea of electing the Freedom Caucus choice is a safe precedent, he needs to overcome his resistance and jump in.
This is where House conservatives decide exactly how serious they are about governing, or at least building a strong foundation for full GOP control in 2017. Objecting to Boehner, lobbing verbal grenades at Mitch McConnell, understandable.
The heavily red districts these representatives hail from don’t like those leaders either. Remember, most of them are more worried about a primary challenge than losing every second November.
But if you aren’t ok with Ryan, you aren’t serious about your job. If Ryan runs and they don’t pick him, he wasn’t going to accomplish his goals anyway. That would clearly indicate the deficit control wing of the party doesn’t exist anymore. It would prove the GOP doesn’t want to participate in the business of running the government.
The last several days were fun. Leadership challenges are often healthy. Dirty laundry aired in public gets cleaned surprisingly quickly. If Trey Gowdy can keep Hillary’s committee hearing under control, no huge harm done.
However, to make this all worth it, Ryan needs to indicate he’s at least open to being drafted. After all, he was willing to serve Romney when called and did go through the vetting process.
In the meanwhile, if Jim Jordan, Freedom Caucus majordomo, is anything more than a giant rolling cactus, now is the time to declare victory and indicate he would welcome a Ryan candidacy.
I’m not willing to give odds on this coming together, though 50/50 sounds highly optimistic. Nothing that has transpired in the past 180 days in the presidential race or congress leads me to believe Republicans are definitely, truly, on a suicide mission.
However, an answer other than Ryan to the Speaker Puzzle would cause a re-evaluation, both of the Freedom Caucus and Ryan himself.
So who gets in first or at all, Ryan or Biden?