It was clear from the outset that Congressman Paul Ryan didn’t want the job, yet he has become the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and republicans appear to have united behind him. But How far Mr. Ryan will go to please the “party of no” Freedom Caucus members will determine whether they eventually throw him under the bus, as they did with Mr. Boehner, says our U.S. Correspondent Tomas Mega
Mr. Blue Eyes is back. We haven’t heard much from him since 2012, when he saddled up alongside Mitt Romney as his Vice-Presidential running mate. He hasn’t changed much in three years; he remains a ‘policy-wonk’ best known for his deeply conservative budgets that cut trillions in domestic spending. His devotion to intense P90X fitness workouts is legendary and he still enjoys listening to Led Zeppelin on his Ipod as he walks through the corridors of the Capitol. The ‘Eddie Munster’ hair seems less of a curiosity, now that we have the attention grabbing oddity of Donald Trumps’ locks. Perhaps the biggest change is, unlike his bid for Vice President, he’s taken a job he, and everyone else, knew he never wanted. Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in now the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and second in line behind the Vice-President to become President, in accordance with the Presidential Succession Act.
As former Speaker John Boehner can attest, it is a thankless, nearly impossible job. Unable to stomach the relentless onslaught led by forty or so ultra-conservative members of the Republican Freedom Caucus, Mr. Boehner resigned after nearly five years on the job. His chosen successor, California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, never made it to a vote after his implosive revelation that the Congressional hearings on the Benghazi tragedy was nothing more than a deliberate attempt by Republicans to derail the Presidential hopes of Hillary Clinton. Rebuked by the Republican Freedom Caucus, not because of his truthful verbal gaffe on Benghazi, but because he was part of Mr. Boehner’s leadership team, Mr. McCarthy withdrew. In chaos, House Republicans turned to the only individual who they believed had some chance of providing leadership among established Republicans and the extreme members of the party; Mr. Ryan.
It was clear from the outset that Mr. Ryan didn’t want the job. “It’s not a job I wanted, or ever sought,” he has said. He fully understands the perils involved and is widely acknowledged to put his role as husband and father on equal footing with his political ambitions. The father of three children, he is well aware that the demands of the Speaker position will require him to spend less time with his family. Like Mr. Boehner, Mr. Ryan is a Catholic, and Mr. Boehner has said that he used “Catholic guilt,” as a persuasion to convince Mr. Ryan to come to the rescue of his party.
As for the political perils, Mr. Ryan made it clear that he would only accept the job if Republicans would unite behind him. After losing 43 votes in the House Republican internal Speaker election, only nine Republicans voted against Ryan on the House floor. Republicans appear to have united behind Mr. Ryan, for now.
Whether Mr. Ryan can appease the extreme wing of the Republican Party through rule changes that de-centralize power and decision-making remains to be seen. The House of Representatives is known as “The Peoples’ House,” and Mr. Ryan has an obligation to do the business of the American people. But Freedom Caucus members are devoted to confrontation, not compromise, and they see it as their way of doing the peoples’ business. As long as there is a Democrat in the White House, it is unlikely they will change their tactics. How far Mr. Ryan will go to please the “party of no” Freedom Caucus members will determine whether they eventually throw him under the bus, as they did with Mr. Boehner.
Mr. Ryan’s tenure is unlikely to make doing the peoples’ business any easier for Democrats. Almost immediately after his confirmation, the White House referred to Mr. Ryan’s views on immigration reform as “preposterous.” While Mr Ryan is respected and liked by many Democrats, his politics are deeply conservative and his views on immigration, taxes, social security, Medicare and social issues will not endear him to Democrat purists.
Mr. Ryan’s decision to accept the job as Speaker of the House poses questions about his political future. Clearly, if he stumbles badly or moves too far to the right, Democrats will use that against him. If he is successful in living up to his expectation that Republicans need to move from an opposition party to being a proposition party, that could bode well for any future political ambition, despite his remarks in a recent interview with CNN:“If I really wanted to be president, I would’ve run in this cycle. I had the chance and opportunity to do that. I’m happy with this decision.”
Mr. Ryan is to be admired for his hard and productive work as a U.S. Congressman, his conviction to being a responsible husband and parent, and his acceptance to step into one of the loneliest jobs in American political life because his party believes he is the right person at the right time. At forty-six, he is a young, well-experienced politician. In a decade, his children will be approaching adulthood and he will still be a young politician. If successful as the new Speaker of the House, he sets himself up perfectly for a run at the Presidency while in his mid-fifties. He may not have wanted the job as Speaker, but by taking it to the House, Mr. Blue Eyes just might take himself all the way to becoming a future President.