Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote

Greg Nash

The rise of Donald Trump has given Paul Ryan heartburn all year. And that may not change after Election Day.

The GOP presidential nominee has repeatedly accused Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking elected Republican, of being disloyal to his campaign.

{mosads}If Trump is trounced by Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8, many believe he’ll turn his wrath — and his millions of loyal followers — against Ryan as he runs for reelection as Speaker.

Trump already appears to be looking for ways to explain his potential loss in the White House race.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, an ally of Trump, is dialing up the rhetoric against Ryan, telling The Washington Post this week that the Wisconsin lawmaker is a “saboteur” who “needed to be called out and replaced.”

And last Friday, top leaders of the far-right House Freedom Caucus held a conference call in which they discussed backing a challenger to Ryan in the Speaker’s race, set for one week after the election, The Hill has learned. Some lawmakers are floating caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), though his aides said he won’t run.  

“A lot of conservatives are hearing in great volume back in their districts calls to dump Ryan. If we don’t have somebody that runs against him, it makes us look like we’re complicit,” said a lawmaker on the Freedom Caucus call.

“I think it is a pretty sure bet there will be an opponent to the Speaker in November.”

Even if Ryan survives that closed-door vote in the GOP conference, such a challenge could embolden rank-and-file Republicans to oppose Ryan in a roll-call floor vote for Speaker in January. Public defections would further erode support for Ryan and make him appear vulnerable.

Ryan would need 218 votes on the floor to keep his hold on the Speaker’s gavel, a feat made more difficult with Democrats projected to pick up a dozen or more seats this November and cut into GOP’s massive majority.

Speculation about Ryan’s future is becoming a parlor game in Washington.

Few forecasters believe a Democratic wave will form before Election Day to sweep Republicans out of power. Yet if the GOP loses the House, it’s possible Ryan could resign from Congress completely.

It’s more likely the GOP will retain control of the House but have to deal with Clinton as president.

In recent days, some House Republicans have privately discussed a “pretty prevalent rumor” that Ryan might immediately step down as Speaker in such a scenario.

The logic is that Ryan would find himself in a “no-win situation” with conservatives if he had to repeatedly cut deals with a new President Clinton just to keep the government open; that’s the undesirable spot Ryan’s predecessor, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), found himself in with President Obama before he was forced out.

And Ryan would be in a stronger position to run for president in 2020, some GOP colleagues argued, if he didn’t have to deal with the day-to-day drama of being Speaker.

Ryan’s team says rumors the Speaker may step aside are false. They also downplay the myriad threats against him. Ryan has spent his first year as Speaker heralding the House GOP’s “Better Way” policy agenda to anyone who will listen and feverishly raising cash for House and Senate Republicans around the country.

Just this week, he hopscotched from Texas to Florida and back to his home state of Wisconsin to campaign and fundraise for House candidates, including vulnerable Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Will Hurd (Texas), as well as Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (Texas).

“Speaker Ryan is fighting to ensure we hold a strong majority next Congress, and he is always working to earn the respect and support of his colleagues,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.

Curbelo, who appeared at two campaign events with Ryan in Miami on Wednesday, described the Speaker in “great spirits” and said he was confident Ryan would continue in his leadership role.

“He’s doing what he’s doing for all the right reasons, so he has nothing to lose,” Curbelo told The Hill.

Another close Ryan ally, fellow Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble (R), expressed confidence the Speaker would be able to quash a revolt from rank-and-file members who might think the Speaker didn’t do enough to help the party’s standard-bearer.

“Ryan is an extraordinary gifted communicator, and he’ll be able to have those heart-to-heart conversations,” Ribble said.

But two polls out this week reveal the serious challenges the Speaker will face as establishment allies and Trump forces square off for control of the Republican Party after the elections.

In a new Bloomberg View poll, 51 percent of Republicans said Trump better represented their view of the GOP; only 33 percent said Ryan did.

Meanwhile, a new Economist/YouGov survey showed Ryan significantly underwater among Trump supporters: 64 percent had an unfavorable view of Ryan, and 28 percent had a favorable view.

That represented a remarkable dive from a week earlier, when Ryan was 8 points above water among Trump backers, 48 percent to 40 percent.

“It’s hard to find a Paul Ryan fan in my district,” said Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Trump supporter who is a member of the Freedom Caucus.

What changed in those seven days?

Trump backers on Capitol Hill and around the country say they were outraged when Ryan told his members on a call last week that he would no longer defend or campaign for Trump — a stunning rebuke of the GOP presidential nominee.

Ryan’s announcement came in response to a 2005 recording of Trump bragging about trying to have sex with a married woman and groping others without their permission. Soon after, nearly a dozen women came forward alleging that Trump had sexually harassed or assaulted them.

Ryan had distanced himself from Trump and his controversial comments and policies throughout the campaign. But the New York business mogul and reality TV star saw Ryan’s snub last week as a final act of betrayal.

It hasn’t helped Ryan’s cause that one of his most vocal political foes is also CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign. As chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart, Steve Bannon had told his employees he wanted to destroy Ryan, viewing the Speaker as part of the global elite who are pro-trade and pro-immigration.

A source close to Bannon said he wouldn’t be surprised if Trump continued avenging Ryan after Nov. 8 given that Trump has a long memory and doesn’t forget “disloyalty.”

“In reality, Paul Ryan has the same dream as Hillary Clinton: open borders and open trade,” said the source close to Bannon.

“I fully expect Donald Trump to continue to forcefully expose the danger that Ryan presents to the American public atop the House of Representatives,” the source went on. “If conservatives thought Boehner was bad, Ryan is worse.

“And Trump is going to rip that phony scab off that wound so fast after the election — no matter who wins — it’s not even funny.”

Jonathan Swan and Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.

Tags Boehner Donald Trump Hillary Clinton House Freedom Caucus John Boehner Paul Ryan Reid Ribble
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