His appearance Tuesday night on CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert—the 46-year-old Ryan’s maiden voyage on a network late-night talk show—was only his most recent stop on a full-dress publicity tour to sell the idea that under no circumstances will he agree to have his name put in for nomination in Cleveland this July.
A recent campaign-style video produced by his ever-ready staff, however, suggested the opposite to some conspiracy theorists, should the Republican convention devolve into a multi-ballot train wreck, and possibly riots in the streets, as Donald Trump falls short of the magic 1,237 and the delegates refuse to rally around him or any of the other also-rans.
“Yes or no—would you accept the nomination?” Colbert asked Ryan, who was sitting behind a massive desk and in front of an American flag, in a satellite feed from Washington.
“No, Stephen,” Ryan replied. “I have said I do not want, nor would I accept, the Republican nomination.”
“Got it,” Colbert said. “So—you’re considering the nomination?”
“No, I’m not.”
“OK. I’ll give you some time to mull this one over.” Long pause as Colbert licked the tip of his pen and pretended to scribble something. “How about now?”
By this point, as the studio audience tittered, it was clear that Ryan and Colbert were not actually participating in an interview but following a comedy script devised by the Late Show writers.
Unlike his immediate predecessors—the orange-hued, red wine-swilling, cigarette-inhaling John Boehner; the elegantly attired, sharp-elbowed San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi; and the criminally libidinous former high school wrestling coach Denny Hastert (the less said about him, the better)—the super-fit Ryan is at pains to reveal himself as a millennial-friendly, media-savvy modern politician.
Indeed, before he launched into the shtick, Ryan—who became a recognizable national figure four years ago as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate—made a pitch for his positive vision of the Grand Old Party, in which the Republicans House members offer solutions instead of obstruction.
Ryan, speaking rapid-fire, talked about how “we’re offering an agenda to the country” that sounded nothing like the hard and bitter one being proposed by the reality show billionaire who won Tuesday’s New York Republican primary in a landslide.
An earnest young congressman from Janesville, Wisconsin—and a one-time waiter at Tortilla Coast, a Capitol Hill watering hole—Ryan by most accounts accepted the speakership under protest after the House GOP’s Tea Party faction drummed the moderate Boehner out of the job.
Sitting at the big desk that looked at least three times as old as he is, Ryan touted “economic growth,” “problem-solving,” “national security,” “patient-centered health care,” and “an ideas campaign, not a personality contest”—which, obviously, has little relationship to the garish spectacle currently riveting the media-political complex.
And then it was on to Colbert’s extended joke on Ryan’s apparently preternatural reluctance to be promoted to higher office—never mind that has he been a professional politician for nearly two decades, and an ambitious one at that.
“So that’s a maybe?”
“No, it’s a no.”
“Like a ‘no no’? Or a ‘No, I don’t want to be speaker of the House, but I’ll accept it if you give it to me’ no?
“It’s a no no.”
“And two no nos make a yes?”
And so it went.
All in all, not a bad talk show debut for Ryan, who may yet answer the call.