Even as an energetic group of Republicans try to jostle Rep. Paul Ryan into running for House speaker, the fact remains that the Wisconsin Republican would face a perilous situation—essentially the same hostile environment of infighting that John Boehner has had enough of.
Even if Ryan were to swoop in to save the day, the calculations would remain the same: a class of House Republicans that cannot find sufficient internal consensus to govern consistently without crisis. This is something even the most fervent Ryan fans admit.
“You get the honor of making a speech before they tar and feather you every day,” acknowledged Rep. Darrell Issa, even as he spoke at length about how Ryan should run, though he was considering it himself. “He is obviously dealing with the fact that this isn’t the job he asked for, or even wants, but may be a job that the conference needs him to take.”
“It’s very difficult for anyone so long as any group thinks they have veto power and they can hijack and blackmail the House,” added Rep. Peter King of New York, another lawmaker who is urging Ryan to enter the race.
Following a meeting of the Republican conference in the subterranean rooms of the Capitol, Issa indicated that the private conversations inside were dominated by lawmakers encouraging Ryan to run.
“He’s both vetted and has the experience of now chairing not one but two committees. I think what you’re hearing in there is the preparatory work for a more successful Congress once we have a new speaker, but you’re also hearing people universally, or nearly universally asking Paul Ryan to go home over the weekend and reconsider,” Issa said.
Issa also strongly implied that he had talked to Ryan, and that Ryan had agreed to reconsider a bid for the speakership over the next few days.
But there are already signs that if Ryan were to become speaker, he’d still face an intransigent group of unyielding conservatives—the same problem that made the job so unwieldy for Boehner. On conservative blogs, commentators were also pouring cold water on the idea of a Ryan speakership, arguing that Ryan was soft on immigration and criminal justice.
“Paul Ryan Is the Absolute Worst Choice for Speaker,” blared one headline on the conservative website Breitbart.com; “Will Paul Ryan Be the Next Speaker? I Hope Not,” read another, on the Powerline blog.
“I don’t think it’s the face” of the speaker that matters, said Rep. David Brat, the conservative Virginia lawmaker who unseated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “It’s the principle.”
On Friday, less than 24 hours after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made the shocking announcement that he would be abruptly pulling out of the race for speaker, Ryan’s office released a second statement reiterating that he is not running for the position. “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Fundamentally, McCarthy and Ryan have similar voting records—the American Conservative Union gives Ryan a lifetime 90 rating, while McCarthy has a lifetime 88.63. But they do differ in terms of overall force of personality and image: Ryan has forged a reputation as the chairman of two committees, and as the vice-presidential nominee of the Republican Party in the 2012 elections.
Close friends indicate that the drawback for Ryan is that he has a young family, and hint that his wife is a key voice against a potential candidacy.
When Rep. Trey Gowdy was asked what it would take to get Ryan to become a candidate for speaker, he responded, “You’ll have to ask Janna Ryan that question,” referring to the congressman’s wife.
“Paul is going to have to do some soul-searching and decide whether that’s something he wants to do,” added Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.