Our Future is Not in Paul Ryan’s Hands

For anyone who is willing to breezily jump on board the spreading consensus that Trumpism isn’t explained by economic insecurity, I encourage you to look at David Wong’s piece at Cracked for a much fuller explanation of what’s driving this collective freakout. Until you understand where this is coming from, you won’t get why Kevin Drum is off by dozens of kilometers when he argues that after the election Paul Ryan will become “the undisputed leader of the Republican Party” and therefore “our future is in his hands.”

As I wrote last week, Paul Ryan is doomed and his Speakership will end regardless of whether or not the Republicans hold onto a slim majority of seats in the House of Representatives. I encourage you to go back to that piece for a full treatment of why this is the case, but I’ll give a brief summary here.

John Boehner fell as speaker because he could not get a majority of his own caucus to pass his spending bills and he could not get a majority of his caucus to pay our country’s debts on time. When Boehner agreed to step down, the Republicans came together to pass last year’s appropriations and to raise the debt limit as the price of being rid of him. That solved the problem for last year, but it didn’t solve the underlying problem. That’s why Kevin McCarthy wasn’t an acceptable replacement for Boehner. It’s also why no other Republican could step forward and win the support from enough Republicans to win the Speakership. The job was forced on Paul Ryan over his steady objections for the simple reason that no one else had the stature to win enough votes.

Since this is an election year, the Congressional Republicans have been willing to let this fight over debt and spending simmer on a back burner. After all, if their nominee becomes president, then they won’t be in this position of responsibility for funding the government of a Democratic president. But that doesn’t mean Speaker Ryan has had an easy time of it. He and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell haven’t been able to pass one stand-alone appropriations bill all year. In fact, Ryan didn’t even pass a budget, which is something Boehner always managed to do. It’s unlikely that Ryan can avoid passing an omnibus bill and continuing resolution in the lame duck which will not be popular with the base.

But if lawmakers return in November unwilling to advance individual spending bills, or some legislative package, Congress is headed for yet another bill extending current spending.

That would mean that, after not getting a budget done, after clamping down on the appropriations process, after passing five regular appropriations bills, after getting zero of those bills signed into law, after passing one stopgap spending bill, Congress would start next year with another stopgap bill…

…Discussing the January speaker vote, one conservative member told HuffPost on Friday that Ryan could be in trouble, depending on the number of seats Republicans lose this election.

“If we lose 15, it’ll be tough for Paul Ryan, especially if we do an omnibus in December,” the member said.

The premise here, of course, is that the Republicans will retain the House, albeit with a significantly narrower majority. And then the newly elected Republican caucus will meet and vote on who they want to serve as their Speaker. It should be clear enough to Ryan that he won’t win this vote that he will not even stand for the honor.

It’s not just that Ryan will do things in the lame duck that infuriate the base, although he will. Much more significantly, after a year-long tumultuous relationship, Donald Trump has decided to make all-out war on Ryan. Just last night, Trump blasted out three tweets critical of the Speaker, and that’s after calling him “weak and ineffective,” and accusing him of disloyally working to undermine his candidacy.

This is just the final fallout of what has been a growing split in the Republican Party since Eric Cantor was bounced out of Congress by a Tea Partier. In truth, Trump’s campaign CEO Steve Bannon instructed his Breitbart staff to destroy Paul Ryan soon after he accepted the gavel.

In December 2015, weeks after Ryan became Speaker, Bannon wrote in an internal Breitbart email obtained by The Hill that the “long game” for his news site was for Ryan to be “gone” by the spring.

In the Dec. 1 email, Breitbart’s Washington editor, Matt Boyle, suggested to Bannon via email that a story promoting Ryan’s planned overhaul of the mental health system would be a good way to “open a bridge” to Ryan.

Bannon wasn’t keen on the idea.

“I’ve got a cure for mental health issue,” Bannon wrote to Boyle. “Spank your children more.”

“I get that,” responded Boyle, “but this is a place where we can open a bridge to Paul Ryan — we’re playing the very long long long game Steve.”

Replied Bannon: “Long game is him gone by spring.”

There is nothing that Paul Ryan has done in the intervening eleven months to soften Bannon’s resolve that Ryan be destroyed, and Bannon has clearly convinced his new boss Donald Trump to lend his considerable weight to this objective.

As I pointed out in my earlier piece, Ryan had a math problem the last time he ran for Speaker, initially lacking support from 34 members of his own caucus. He survived the vote only because no serious alternative emerged and in the end only nine Republicans held out. With a smaller majority, the loss of one or two dozen likely allies, an unpopular lame duck agenda, and a bullseye painted on his back by Trump, it’s impossible for me to envision Ryan winning the vote next time.

After the low-hanging fruit is defeated in November, what remains of the Republican caucus will be definitionally safe from even a political tsunami. Short of personal scandal, no Democrat could ever defeat them, if then. But 100% of them will be vulnerable to primary challenges from their Trumpian right. There will be no upside to casting a Speaker vote for Ryan, and there will be plenty of downside.

If Trump weren’t already committed to destroying Ryan, his decision to hype a stab in the back explanation for his defeat would ensure that his hordes will focus on the “disloyal” Ryan as the first battle of the next stage of their political war.

Ryan is done, but that doesn’t mean the drama will be over. In a follow-up piece, I will attempt to predict what happens once he falls. Hint: I think the Republicans will have grave difficulties electing a Speaker at all. And, even if they do, they will not last. If the Republicans retain the House, the House will be thrown into chaos and it will culminate in a permanent split in the Republican Party with the Trump forces representing the larger half.

Stay tuned…

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.