As we survey the Republican field of presidential candidates, there is an air of disbelief from moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents.
What would lead one to believe a brokered GOP convention would result in a Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE (R-Wis.) candidacy? Here's what I see.
We have rumblings from establishment Republicans who have grave concerns about Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE as the potential candidate, and for that matter, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (Texas) as well.
There are numerous reports of Republican donors holding back from supporting candidates at the same levels that they supported GOP nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — PennEast drops pipeline plans despite Supreme Court victory Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase MORE in the 2012 campaign. As Gregory Devor, a major Republican fundraiser, said, "I cannot commit a dime to anybody because I don't see a future." Translation: There is no candidate who is likely to succeed in the general election.
Ryan, who was "convinced" to take on the Speakership of the House, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "I will use this bully pulpit as effectively as I can," and continued, "For now, it is the bully pulpit we have." He really meant "I," not "we." He consistently talks about setting a tone that is inclusive and policy-focused with an agenda that is inspirational, inclusive and optimistic. Let us not forget he acquired national campaign experience as Romney's running mate four years ago.
According to news reports from early December, conservatives were responding with vigorous opposition to reports of a brokered convention. Clearly, conservatives prefer to see the conservative-dominated primary process determine the Republican presidential candidate. A brokered convention opens the door to more old-style politics, where back-room deals might control the outcome.
Who benefits from a brokered convention? If one were to create a storyline with Machiavellian overtones, it might go something like this:
Party insiders, looking at the chaos in the House of Representatives and simultaneously the chaos in the Republican presidential process, ponder to whom they should turn. The obvious choice is Romney, and, maybe as a less obvious choice, Ryan. To set that plot in motion, they create a drama around the selection of the next Speaker of the House, aided by front-runner House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (Calif.) blunder over Benghazi and the consistent chaos created by the Freedom Caucus and other far-right conservatives in the House, and see an opportunity to position Ryan as a savior in the House. They then allow Boehner during his departure period to solve many of the more difficult issues that could disrupt Ryan's initial few months in office, including a budget deal (that is not done yet but appears close and may be even better), the debt ceiling and the Export-Import Bank. This creates a relatively clear path for Ryan into calendar year 2016, and allows him to establish himself as someone who can work with the majority of his party, possibly the right wing of his party, and many Democrats. If I were creating a mosaic, these would certainly be the pieces that I would want to work with.
Floating the idea of a brokered convention and simultaneously raising the specter of a third Romney candidacy leaves Ryan to continue his work in the House without being subject to damaging debates, scrutiny and television ads, all of which expose the candidate and cost money to defeat.
At the same time, Ryan also has the benefit of being consistently in the news, not as a presidential candidate, but as the Speaker, advancing ideas as opposed to just sound bites. Obviously, we won't know for a while whether this scenario is true, but nonetheless, the stage is set.
Now let's circle back to the donors sitting on the sidelines. If a brokered convention was to nominate Ryan, he could then immediately call on the hundreds of millions of dollars sitting on the sideline to support that candidacy. Imagine the positive energy such a move would generate. It is also likely that if the Republican presidential field continues to implode, making incredibly demeaning and racially provocative comments, it is clear that a call for a brokered convention may rise to a crescendo and a ground swell of support for Ryan could emerge.
The selection of Paul Ryan would require the Democratic nominee to pivot and focus on the surprise candidate — a truly Machiavellian opportunity with potentially great results for Republicans.
Owens represented New York's North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. He is now a strategic adviser at Dentons out of its Washington office and a partner in the Plattsburgh, N.Y. firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC.