The future of Paul Ryan’s speakership

The Washington Post claims that Speaker Paul Ryan “is on the verge of a reckoning with House conservatives that threatens to end his speakership and extinguish his future as a national political leader.” Post reporters Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis say that, given the likelihood of an enhanced presence of Democrats in the new House, it might take less than one-third of the 40-member House Freedom Caucus to end Ryan’s speakership. And they report that several members of that caucus are considering an attempt to oust Ryan.

My view of Ryan is probably well known to most Power Line readers. I consider him a good man and an asset to the House. However, I think he’s too eager to compromise with Democrats, especially on criminal justice reform and amnesty-style immigration legislation.

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, and assuming (as we should) that the Republicans maintain control of the House, the speakership decision should come down to these questions: (1) Do House Republicans want to be led by someone who is quite open to compromising with Clinton? (2) Do House Republicans want to be led by someone who favors amnesty and a path to citizenship plus leniency for federal drug felons?

I would like to believe that most members of the Freedom Caucus, and many Republican House members who don’t belong to it, would answer both questions in the negative.

Does this mean that, as the Post says, Ryan’s speakership is under serious threat? Not necessarily. Ryan is Speaker now in part because House Republicans couldn’t seem to coalesce around anyone else. Who knows whether they will be able to do so this time?

Ryan is also Speaker, in part, because he made representations to Freedom Caucus members that they found satisfactory. Perhaps he will make the necessary representations again.

As for Ryan’s future as a national political leader, it’s not clear to me whether he would be helped or hurt by being Speaker going forward. As Speaker, Ryan will either compromise with Clinton or avoid compromising (absent exigent circumstances). To the extent that he compromises, he alienates the Republican base. To the extent that he refuses to compromise, he becomes a symbol of “obstructionism” and “gridlock,” thus diminishing his prospects in a general election.

Finally, what about the Trump factor? Many Republicans are unhappy that Ryan never quite seemed fully to embrace the Republican nominee and distanced himself after the sex talk tape come out. Trump himself isn’t pleased.

If Trump loses, I don’t think there will be a Trump factor in selecting the Speaker. If he wins, Trump will certainly be a factor, but I have no clear idea of how things will play out in that scenario.

In sum, I hope Speaker Ryan is in as much trouble as the Post article suggests, but I’m not convinced that he is.

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