The Republican party leadership just can’t quite wrap its collective head around Donald Trump or Ted Cruz being the GOP presidential nominee. So now all hopes are pinned to the belief that if neither of those candidates can reach a majority of delegates outright, the party can just choose whoever it wants at a contested convention.
Ryan’s non-candidacy, which he is assiduously cultivating, fulfills all the party leader’s favorite fantasies. He’s young, proven on the national stage, and beloved by the media, which keeps buying his patently false image as a serious moderate who genuinely cares about the poor.
For the record, Ryan is only two of those things: young (well, by political standards) and a media darling. He flopped during the 2012 vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden. His “serious” budget proposals are, as economist Paul Krugman puts it, “stuffed full of mystery meat.” Ryan is conveniently sorry now that he called the poor “takers,” but his policies would still shred the safety net.
He’s also decidedly antigay. Asked about marriage freedom in 2012, Ryan was impatient, as if it was below his dignity to even have to deal with the matter. “Actually, I came on to talk about the debt crisis we have and the budget,” Ryan complained on “Meet the Press.” “I support the Wisconsin amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman… I don’t know why we are spending all this time talking about this. We’ve got a debt crisis coming and the administration just gave us a budget that simply just charts another path to debt and decline.”
By comparison to Trump and Cruz, Ryan may come across as sane, but there is little or no difference among their political positions.
The results of the Wisconsin primary do increase the odds of no candidate having enough votes to win on the first ballot. The media are feeding this narrative, in part because it’s true but also to write a once-in-a-lifetime political saga that’s a potential ratings blockbuster.
But there’s a reason things are called a fantasy–they never come true. Why would delegates sworn to Cruz or Trump be willing to abandon either candidate for Paul Ryan? Can you imagine Donald or Ted letting Ryan walk in at the last minute to snatch the nomination away? There would be an open revolt among the delegates.
More to the point, Ryan is exactly the kind of establishment Republican that the majority of voters in the GOP primary have rejected multiple times: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are the two prime examples. Moreover, right now Ryan is under assault from the very same Tea Party contingent that brought down John Boehner.
Which raises the obvious question: why would Ryan want to be the nominee in any case? In 2016, there is no surer way to commit political suicide than to position yourself as the Republican establishment’s savior. Trump and Cruz prove that this is the year of the outsider. Ryan is anything but.
Ryan is ambitious. You don’t get to be Speaker of the House through sheer modesty (although Ryan would like you to believe he only did it out of duty). But that ambition could be his downfall. The Republican party is so riven by revolts that anyone who rises up to lead it will be toted off to the guillotine eventually. (Figuratively speaking, of course.) And if Ryan becomes one more notch on the belt of an angry Republican base fed up with its leaders–well, every cloud has its silver lining.