A.B. Stoddard: Ryan’s long game

Haiyun Jiang

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is known as one of the deepest thinkers in the GOP — so why do his fellow Republicans think he is stupid?

On Tuesday Ryan shut the door — again — to the idea of being drafted as the crisis nominee for his chaotic party if there’s a contested convention this summer. Anyone who believes in the future of the Republican Party, and anyone who dearly hopes to see Ryan run for president one day, would not wish any such punishment on one of the party’s brightest lights. Ryan can’t win the White House this year, and in trying to he would lose the Speakership and likely be discarded with the wreckage that will pile up after the storm.

{mosads}The populist, anti-establishment movement that has fueled Donald Trump’s success in the primary race directly conflicts with Ryan’s wonkish conservatism, which aims to spur growth by reforming entitlement programs, cutting spending and shrinking government. The man now best positioned to lead the Republican Party doesn’t support free trade, has expressed support not only for the coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act but for government-funded universal coverage, has defended Planned Parenthood, and is opposed to reforming Social Security. He and Ryan have also clashed on a ban of Muslims entering the country.

Anti-Trump donors and operatives praying for a viable alternative to both Trump and Ted Cruz hoped Ryan’s interview schedule, trip to Israel and ad-style videos on social media signaled a shadow campaign for a multi-ballot draft at the convention in Cleveland, but in fact it’s the opposite. Ryan is working to strengthen his Speakership in order to preserve his majority in the House and a conservative policy agenda no matter who the party nominates. He offers thinly veiled criticism of Trump’s candidacy and said Tuesday that “politics today tends to drift toward personality contests, not policy contests,” and that “insults get more ink than ideas.”

It’s clear Ryan intends to stay his course, and by pushing for a more positive, policy-focused politics, he will attempt to preserve at least some of the foundation of the Republican Party, something — anything — that might survive its reincarnation. “We have an obligation to give a clear picture — a clear choice. To talk about solutions,” he said.

Republican primary voters have made a clear choice, and it has shaken the GOP to its core. What was widely considered the best GOP presidential field in decades has crumbled, along with what they considered to be their Republican Party. After failing to address the economic hardship of its middle-class and working-poor voters, Republicans now face an electorate disinterested in the Ryan budget or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s immigration reforms. Cruz, who disagrees with Trump on several key policy matters, nonetheless aligned with him on immigration and reversed course, to oppose trade, once the campaign was underway. The Texas senator has also long championed confrontational, anti-establishment politics.

The third remaining GOP primary contender, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, tried separating himself from Cruz and Trump Tuesday in a speech titled “Two Paths,” in which he criticized the exploitation of fear, anger and division. “That path solves nothing. It demeans our history, it weakens our country, and it cheapens each one of us,” Kasich said.

But it seems for Republicans, better angels are a quaint luxury of a time gone by. Rick Wilson, a leader of #NeverTrump who would far prefer Kasich as the nominee, shot down the hopeful and pragmatic pitch, telling The Washington Post that if Ronald Reagan himself came back from the dead, he probably couldn’t sell it to today’s Republicans.

Ryan can see that a long and ugly Republican reckoning may take a decade or more. Unlike others, his leadership is likely to survive it. 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Marco Rubio Paul Ryan Ted Cruz
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