Vanity Fair: Paul Ryan’s Pyrrhic Victory

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony on Capitol Hill, February 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty

T.A. Frank in Vanity Fair breaks down House Speaker Paul Ryan’s contested August 9 primary against Paul Nehlen, and the risk Ryan runs of losing the Republican party even if victorious in “the most important election of the year, apart from the one occurring on November 8.”

From Vanity Fair:

The odds for Nehlen are long. Of nearly 5,000 primaries held between 1992 and 2012, only 31 challengers toppled the incumbent. Nehlen also seems a little goofy, if a campaign ad is anything to go by. He has a much smaller bank account, too, with about $175,000 in cash on hand as compared to Ryan’s nearly $10 million. And one poll has him getting creamed.

Nehlen’s competence and leadership ability, however, are beside the point. This is a national fight about the direction of Republican politics, and outsiders like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin have shown up to campaign for Nehlen, while numerous conservatives, including icon Phyllis Schlafly, have offered their support. What’s more, we have been here before. In 2014, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor went down to defeat in a primary against David Brat, a college professor who had spent only $200,000 in comparison to Cantor’s $5 million. It should have been a warning to Republicans nationwide that voters didn’t like Cantor’s pro-trade, pro-bailout, pro-immigration reform record. But few wanted to hear the lesson. Instead, the party put its hopes behind Jeb Bush.

We can see more clearly now that Brat’s victory was an early battle in a civil war among Republicans that will come into full view on Tuesday. At stake was whether the party should adopt the pro-trade, pro-immigration stance of Paul Ryan or the trade-skeptical, immigration-skeptical stance of Donald Trump, the two candidates that now have our attention. Former president George W. Bush recently placed himself, unsurprisingly, on the Paul Ryan side of the divide, delivering remarks warning against “isolationism, nativism, and protectionism.” Paul Nehlen has, of course, taken the Trump side of the divide, attacking Ryan as a “soulless globalist.”

The odds are wildly against it, but if Paul Ryan, a leading political light, goes down to defeat, then it’ll be a new G.O.P. Even if Nehlen merely puts a serious dent into Ryan, it will still be a warning, and everyone will have some adjusting to do. So we’ll see. Certainly, populism is a very tough fit for a party that was traditionally the refuge of moneybags, but the workings of supply and demand have made such a makeover plausible. If the Democrats won’t offer voters populism, then some other party will.

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