House GOP mulls reset

House GOP mulls reset
© Getty Images

A year after Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Ocasio-Cortez calls out Steve King, Liz Cheney amid controversy over concentration camp remarks Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law MORE was elected House Speaker, Republicans are asking whether the party will need to hit the reset button on Nov. 9.

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE’s presidential campaign has divided Republicans, and the GOP nominee himself has openly feuded with the Speaker.


The Republican National Committee’s autopsy report on its 2012 election loss has largely been ignored, and Trump is struggling to win over Hispanic, black and female voters.

Trump has been seen as the heavy underdog in the White House race, though the GOP got a shocking bit of good news on Friday.

The FBI said it was looking into new evidence related to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 MORE’s use of a private email server, an announcement Republicans seized upon as news that could give their candidates last-minute momentum.

Approximately 12 million votes have already been cast in the White House race, underlying worries in Republican circles that a Trump defeat could be baked in. Yet the FBI’s decision felt like something that at a minimum could affect the outcomes in the battles for the House and Senate, and possibly the White House.

No matter what happens, a majority of congressional Republicans — even some hardcore conservatives — want Ryan to stay on as Speaker for another two years. And no credible challenger has emerged to take him on in the internal leadership elections slated for Nov. 15, despite heavy criticism toward Ryan from both Trump and Steven Bannon, the Breitbart News executive who is the Trump campaign chairman.

It’s also hard to imagine who else but Ryan could come close to securing the 218 votes needed to be elected Speaker.

But others are predicting the Wisconsin Republican may step down from the top job after the election to spare his party from a bloody, post-election GOP civil war with Trump and his loyalists. Some Ryan allies point out that this was not a job the former Ways and Means and Budget chairman even wanted in the first place, and that the idea of Ryan walking away from the speakership isn’t inconceivable.

Still, it would represent a stunning move for Ryan, Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate and a possible future presidential candidate who’s regarded as the “intellectual leader” of the party. After much cajoling, Ryan reluctantly was sworn into the top job in Congress just one year ago Saturday after then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE (R-Ohio) suddenly resigned and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) dropped out of the race to succeed him.

“My bet is that [Ryan] will step aside. I’m not a genius; he’s seeing the same thing I’m seeing,” said one conservative House lawmaker who described Ryan as a “very decent guy who cares deeply about the institution.” “If Trump loses, we’ll probably lose the Senate also, and we’ll probably need a fresh start in the House if we have any hope of winning back our base.

“We have lost the confidence of our base, and if we go on with business as usual, it will worsen,” the lawmaker said.

Ryan told rank-and-file House Republicans he was cutting ties with Trump after the leak of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which the billionaire real-estate mogul is heard making lewd comments about groping and kissing women. That infuriated Trump, who attacked the Speaker as disloyal, “very weak and ineffective.”

Bannon, has made no secret of his mission to “destroy” Ryan, whom he says is part of a group of global elitists who want open borders and open trade.  

If Trump loses to Hillary Clinton, it’s widely expected Trump and Bannon will blame Ryan, gin up opposition among their loyal followers, and try to force him out.

For his part, Ryan is trying to steer clear of all palace intrigue on Capitol Hill. The 46-year-old Speaker, the youngest in modern history, has been barnstorming the country in the final weeks of the campaign, raising cash for endangered House Republicans, touting his positive “Better Way” policy agenda, and making the case that a GOP-controlled House will be a “check” on a liberal Clinton White House.

During a fundraising swing through California this week, Ryan packed in 14 campaign events in eight cities in support of new and veteran GOP candidates in tough races. He’ll appear with vulnerable Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) at a campaign rally in North Las Vegas on Saturday before flying to another event in Montana.

“There’s tremendous pressure for Paul to stay,” said a senior House GOP leadership aide who doesn’t work for Ryan. “Paul is doing what Paul needs to do: He’s out on the road raising money, campaigning, he’s articulating our ‘Better Way’ agenda to make sure the focus is on policy rather than the other distractions in the campaign.

“He is having us run a substantive campaign. That is making a difference in some of these tight races.”

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong would only say her boss is narrowly focused right now on rallying Republicans around conservative policies, “defeating Democrats and protecting the House Republican majority.”

One factor that could guide Ryan’s decision is how many seats House Republicans will lose on Election Day. He already knows he has little margin for error in the Jan. 3 floor vote for Speaker. Nine Republicans voted against Ryan in the public floor vote for Speaker last fall.

If the GOP gets routed on Nov. 8 and Democrats take back 20 seats, for example, that would leave Republicans with 227 seats. In that scenario, Ryan could only afford to lose nine Republicans in the January roll call to avoid a second ballot, assuming no Democrats cast their vote for Ryan.

Further complicating matters is the fact that some in the House Freedom Caucus, the band of conservative rebels who ousted BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa MORE, are agitating for change. Some in the group are furious at Ryan for how he’s handled Trump this cycle: refusing to back the bombastic nominee, then endorsing him, then announcing on a conference call he was ditching Trump during the homestretch of the election.

Other conservatives still smarting over Ryan’s handling of recent spending deals and want to see if he relies on Democrats once again to pass an omnibus bill during the lame-duck session. Freedom leaders have been pushing Ryan to delay the internal, closed door leadership votes until after the New Year so they can evaluate his actions during lame duck, but the Speaker has no plans to do so.

“His tenure in this session isn’t done until the lame duck is done,” said one of the leaders of the Freedom Caucus. “It seems kind of stupid to vote to give Ryan two more years when we don’t know the final outcome of his tenure.”

With the far-right Freedom group, it’s not for lack of trying. Ryan has made Freedom Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and conservative Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) part of his team of advisers. He’s invited Freedom members to dinners in the Capitol, a departure from his predecessor, Boehner, who had a small clique of friends.

And he’s held fundraisers for vulnerable Freedom members, including Reps. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) and Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Manufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank MORE (R-N.J.). Republican Jim Banks, who was endorsed by the Freedom Caucus and is expected to win an open House seat in Indiana, has already pledged to support Ryan for Speaker.

Despite his frequent clashes with the Freedom group, Ryan is still enormously popular within his 246-member House GOP conference.

“Paul Ryan is the future of the Republican Party. He is our idea guy and the most articulate spokesman who can communicate our conservative vision to the American people,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a Trump supporter who is a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee and leads House GOP candidate recruitment efforts.

“I think Speaker Ryan has been an effective leader at a very challenging time for our country and the GOP,” added freshman Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), another Trump backer who belongs to the centrist Tuesday Group. “He’s a positive influence and presence in the public arena for the Republican House majority and I hope he remains as Speaker for the next session of Congress.”

One longtime conservative operative downplayed all the coup talk. He predicted Ryan would still be holding the Speaker’s gavel in 2017.

“There will be no civil war because Trumpism will die a remarkably quick death after the election. Trump isn't going to fund a movement and no one is going to run as a Trumper in any election,” said the GOP operative who worked on a presidential campaign this cycle.

“Ryan will be the de facto leader of the Republican Party simply because he'll be the highest ranking official. But who becomes the cultural leader, the real voice for conservatives and Republicans, is still a question,” the operative continued.

“Ryan will certainly be part of the solution because he has full-throated support for a positive Republican policy agenda, which is the key to rebuilding and winning back voters.”