Well, it’s safe to say the House Republican Caucus has descended into total disarray after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy unceremoniously bowed out of the Speaker’s race. While I continue to believe Boehner stepping aside was a good thing (or at least a necessary action given the loss of trust—fair or not—amongst conservative members), the situation has descended from bad to worse as seemingly no qualified candidate is interested in what may be the most thankless job in Washington.
It’s clear now that McCarthy’s horrible Benghazi remarks undermined his ability to win over skeptical anti-establishment figures like those in the self-described Freedom Caucus. Whoever the next Speaker is, he or she needs to be an adept spokesperson for the party and conservative principles. Realizing he could no more effectively govern than Boehner has, McCarthy did what was best for his country, institution, and party by stepping aside.
Now, it is a question of who steps forward to lead what often seems to be an ungovernable caucus that is now suffering from virtually unprecedented internal strife (if not civil war). The tension between the establishment and right flank of the caucus has been building for years, especially since the ill-fated shutdown of 2013 that achieved nothing. The establishment sees the “conservatives” as uncompromising idealists who fail to bend to political realities while the “conservatives” see the establishment as wimps unwilling to fight for campaign promises. Both sides are partly right and partly wrong.
Until the party can unify, chaos will persist, but these divides are bridgeable. Most of these intra-party disputes revolve around tactics not policy (ie virtually all republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood, the question is how best to go about it). We need a Speaker who has the support of the establishment and the trust of conservatives. Conservatives saw in Boehner (and by extension McCarthy) a leader unwilling to fight; again whether this is fair or not is almost irrelevant because perception becomes reality. By losing the trust of conservatives, he lost their buy-in on key measures, making it impossible to have any leverage in negotiations with Democrats.
Given the sheer duration of this intra-party battle, few members have the capacity to earn the support and trust of all GOP representatives, which is why Paul Ryan needs to step up and lead. Ryan has proven himself to be a thoughtful policymaker with a bold vision of what a conservative America can look like as witnessed by his budget plans. Ryan has the ability to maintain the support of the “Boehner core” while winning the trust of the anti-establishment to negotiate seriously with the President.
Ryan’s conservative bona fides are all but untouchable with budget plans that have shaped the core of conservative fiscal thinking, and he also has the proven ability to cut a deal when necessary as he did with Senator Patty Murray to partly deal with sequestration. He is the man best positioned to unify and lead the party—in fact with the possible exception of Trey Gowdy it is unclear to me any other House member could build the necessary support to be Speaker. Plus, despite some suggestions to the contrary, the idea of selecting someone who isn’t a member of Congress as Speaker is short-sided. What does it say about a party that has over 240 members and can’t find a suitable person to lead; having an unelected individual be the face of the party is politically perilous.
Sadly, it is clear Ryan does not want the job and would prefer to stay Chair of Ways and Mean, a perch from which he can negotiate tax reform with the next President. Plus, becoming Speaker would require significant personal sacrifice, keeping him from his family as he has to fundraise and campaign for fellow members. However, at this moment, this country needs Ryan as Speaker so that we can have a Congress that functions to some degree. As Speaker, Ryan would still be heavily involved in tax reform and any other major policy initiatives. Plus, the Republicans will likely maintain control of the House through the 2020 election, meaning Ryan could easily be Speaker for north of 7 years (if not longer), which would give him the ability to shape the course this nation takes to a larger degree than as a committee chair. Since he is only 45, he could be a major force in DC for quite a while and still have a plausible path to the Presidency, should it interest him.
America and Republicans need Paul Ryan, and while the personal and family sacrifices are real, I hope he is able to find a way to “yes.” At the moment, republicans look like buffoons, and should this continue, 2016 election prospects could start to dim. After all if the GOP can’t even pick a Speaker, how can we expect voters to entrust us to govern the country? The Republicans still have a chance to steal a victory from the jaws of a humiliating defeat if we can find a Speaker whom the caucus will follow. Given his ability to articulate a conservative vision, unify the caucus, regain the trust of conservatives (both in the Caucus and in the Grassroots), and work with Democrats when necessary, Paul Ryan is the best if not the only choice for Speaker.
Representative Ryan, your country and your party are clamoring for you. Please say yes.