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Conservative Media, GOP Establishment Push Paul Ryan For Speaker

If the drama surrounding Rep. Paul Ryan’s reluctant march to Speaker of the House is political theater, it’s a pretty good performance.

The Wisconsin congressman consistently said “no” until Friday, when his answer apparently shifted to “no comment,” and may soon evolve to “maybe.” Despite his repeated insistence that he doesn’t want the job, he’s been touted by everyone from flamed-out Speaker candidate Kevin McCarthy to his 2012 running mate, Mitt Romney.

Some of the most insistent endorsements for the reluctant candidate have come from the editors of National Review. Their editorial urging Ryan to take the job actually begins with the line, “Sometimes duty calls.”  It must have taken some restraint to use the word “duty” instead of “destiny.”

The editorial portrays Ryan as more of a synthesis between the GOP Establishment and conservatives than a compromise:

House Republicans are angrily divided, and no faction is blameless. Too many Republicans have been content with an agenda that merely attempts to get business done on time, and to please business lobbies. (Those lobbies are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but conservatism is not reducible to their preferences.) Too many other Republicans think that leadership consists of unrealistic demands combined with strong rhetoric.

More than any other prominent House Republican, Ryan has pushed back against both tendencies. He has instead outlined a practical agenda and done the hard work of building support for it from all corners of the party. Although he has sided with leadership in tactical disputes in recent years, he has consistently pushed the envelope on substance, understanding that the party needs a serious policy agenda to counter that of the Left. He is a knowledgeable and effective defender of conservative policy. Sometimes we think he is wrong on both substantive and tactical matters, but we never doubt that he is wrong for the right reasons. For these reasons, Ryan is trusted by most House Republicans, whatever their opinion of the Boehner era.

National Reivew editor Rich Lowry has been keeping a weather eye on the latest Ryan For Speaker developments:

The editorial glides past something that’s likely to be a sticking point for the conservative caucus that derailed McCarthy: immigration. “He would have to commit to keeping immigration legislation that most Republicans oppose off the floor, whatever his own opinion of it,” National Review suggests.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s “own opinion of it” is so pro-amnesty that open-borders Democrat maniac Luis Gutierrez, the “representative” who has declared his loyalty to illegal aliens comes before his duty to American citizens, has taken to declaring that “a vote for Ryan is a vote for amnesty.” He means it as a compliment.

This is not a small matter.  

It’s not a tiny blemish on an otherwise outstanding record. The conservative base knows full well that Republican leadership wants to sell them out on amnesty. The strong opposition of both Republican voters and the general American population to such measures does not matter to them. The leadership wants to do an amnesty deal because it wants to put the issue away for another few election cycles, because powerful business interests want it, because the Democrat Party wants it more than almost anything else, and because Republican strategists think standing against amnesty will cost the party too many Hispanic votes.

Even more than when he was the vice-presidential candidate, Ryan’s position on the subject is highly relevant. At this point in the 2016 primary, it should be clear to all observers that citizenship and border security are very important issues, and voters are not going to be intimidated or browbeaten out of regarding them as such. Whatever Ryan’s other recommendations for the Speaker’s gavel might be, he would have to work hard to convince the base he’s not going to work out an amnesty deal.  It’s not a trivial matter he can dispose of with a few carefully-chosen words.

Beyond immigration, the problem facing Republican leaders is not that the House is “ungovernable.” That’s a lame excuse, and the tone-deaf GOP leadership will be playing right into Democrat hands by repeating it over and over again. The Democrats certainly didn’t seem to think Speaker of the House was an impossible job that reluctant candidates had to be dragged into. They’re going to remind voters of that when they make their bid to take back the House.

The problem is that the Republican leadership betrayed their own base one time too many. What happened in 2014 was quite simple: the GOP asked voters to give them both House and Senate to put the brakes on Obama’s disastrous agenda, and the voters took them up on it. The capitulations and walkbacks began with days of the last races being called. The old song-and-dance about how “we’ll fight next time” and “we need just a little more power to get anything done” was performed one last time, to disastrous effect.

House Republicans who understand all that are taking a stand against business as usual. They are wise to avoid setting up a 2016 race in which Republicans might take the White House with an outsider candidate… while losing the House, and maybe Senate, because the congressional Republican caucus is out of step with voters.  

It’s understandable that so many eyes have turned to Paul Ryan, who definitely looks like the “fresh face” McCarthy said was needed for Speaker, has proven an effective communicator on the fiscal matters close to his heart, and gained stature as the vice-presidential nominee. He’s got a fine resume, but conservatives are in no mood to have their serious concerns waved aside.  

Also, while the heroic narrative of the reluctant leader answering the call of destiny has marketing appeal, is that really what the House needs right now? Nancy Pelosi showed what a Speaker who relishes the job can do. Sure, the American people took that gavel away from her, but they couldn’t stop her from passing bills that transformed the nation.  Is a reluctant Speaker going to have what it takes to transform it back?

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