On Your Knees!

So after a few days of silence a new word is coming out of the camp of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan: “Maybe.”

According to Nancy Cordes of CBS, Ryan is “open” to the possibility of taking the Speaker’s gavel if and only if he can count on the unconditional submission of the GOP Conference. No negotiations permitted:

Ryan’s confidants tell CBS News he will not horse trade with the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 40 or so deeply conservative members who have been demanding changes to House rules and other very specific promises from candidates for Speaker in exchange for their support. Ryan’s confidants say he is not going to negotiate for a job he never sought, and that he has a record of conservative leadership that should be clear to every member of the GOP conference.

They say Ryan hasn’t ruled out meeting with the House Freedom Caucus if asked, but “he’s not going to go to the Freedom Caucus and say, ‘I’ll do this and this’…otherwise you’ve sold yourself to them from the very beginning, and set yourself up for failure” said someone with knowledge of his deliberations.’ “He still really, really does not want to do this. He has his dream job. If he’s Speaker, his whole career path changes. He’s not going to make concessions to get a job he didn’t want in the first place.”

Either members believe in his conservative leadership, or they don’t – and if Ryan concludes that he’s unlikely to get a near-unanimous vote of support from Republicans, his allies say he is happy to stay exactly where he is as the chair of the House Ways and Means committee.

To put this another way, hard-core House conservatives and the rank-and-file “base” activists they view themselves as representing are expected to kill off their own leverage over the party leadership in order to make life easier for the party leadership by ushering in a “consensus” Speaker. I understand the argument that Ryan’s enough of an ideologue–in contrast to pols like Boehner and McCarthy, who never gave the sense they took anything other than power and ambition seriously–to make his elevation a conservative trophy, or at least provide some hope to the wingnuts that they’d be treated less like pet pit bulls. But it seems Ryan is creating an environment in which they are not able to pound their chests and bellow triumphantly because they are too busy bending the knee to the man the hated Establishment is pressing into service.

In any event, it seems the deal is going to go down this very week:

Those close to Ryan say the true test will come on Wednesday. The House returns from a weeklong recess on Tuesday evening, and House Republicans are likely to meet behind closed doors on Wednesday morning. There, Ryan will likely be asked to speak – and he’ll have his first chance to gauge reaction from members as they go to the microphones to express their views.

Do they say “we know who you are, you’re the guy,” as one Ryan confidant put it? Or do they express skepticism after a week of attacks on Ryan by far right media outlets?

I wouldn’t bet the farm on the kind of total submission Ryan is demanding.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.