Following Kevin McCarthy’s surprising decision to drop out of the race for House Speaker, attention has turned to Paul Ryan. The widely respected Wisconsin man is viewed by many as the Republican representative most likely to (1) obtain the votes needed to become Speaker and (2) perhaps provide a degree of party unity post-selection.
Ryan apparently does not want the job, for an obvious reason (it’s a daunting post) and perhaps for a less obvious one that I’ll discuss below. However, Speaker Boehner reportedly is trying hard to persuade Ryan to take it. There are also reports that Mitt Romney has talked to his 2012 running mate about the matter.
From my perspective, Ryan would be a bad choice. To my knowledge, no one in the House understands budgetary-type issues better than Ryan, and this, along with an apparently stellar personality, is the source of the high esteem in which he correctly is held.
However, when it comes to certain other issues, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish Ryan from a bleeding-heart liberal. Immigration is an excellent example.
In 2013, Ryan was highly sympathetic to the push for amnesty for illegal immigrants (though he objected to the term). In fact, he appeared at a pro-amnesty rally alongside liberal Democrat Luis Gutierrez, the most strident amnesty monger in the House. In addition, he pitched the alleged economic benefits of amnesty to his House colleagues.
Ryan is also a proponent of the kind of sentencing reform now being pressed in both the House and Senate. In 2014, his 73-page “discussion draft” outlining approaches to reshaping how the federal government combats poverty included revising prison sentencing guidelines.
To the extent that House conservatives remain committed to fighting against amnesty and to sustaining the sentencing rules that helped produce a 50 percent reduction in the national rate of serious crime in the past two decades, they should be more opposed to Ryan than they are to the current leaders.
John Boehner is a pragmatist. He has no real commitment to giving illegal aliens a path to citizenship or to freeing major drug dealers from prison before they have served their sentences. Boehner cries a lot, but his emotions rarely creep into his public decision-making.
Ryan is a very different creature. He is ideologically committed to doing good by helping “the least among us.” That’s fine in principle. But helping illegal immigrants gain legal status will encourage more illegal immigration. And given the statistics on recidivism, helping federal drug offenders get back on the street early will produce more crime. “The least among us” aren’t helped by unsafe streets.
If House Republicans want a rock-ribbed, uncompromising conservative leader, Paul Ryan is not their man. If House Republicans want a unifying figure, Ryan is not their man for the long haul. In fact, his bleeding-heart instincts would likely create new divisions.
Ryan seems to understand that the Speaker’s job isn’t for him. He is, simultaneously, a nuts-and-bolts expert in a narrow (though very important) policy area and a visionary. This makes him remarkable. But neither characteristic fits the Speaker’s job description very well, especially in these times.