Friday, April 15, 2016

If Not Paul Ryan, Then Who?

Speaker Paul Ryan's pretty forceful admission this past week was about as close as we'll likely get from the shrewd politician to a "Sherman-esque" statement that "if nominated, he will not run, if elected, he will not serve."  While I anticipate that Ryan will almost certainly run for the White House at some date in the future (and may in hindsight look back at 2016 with either "best decision of my life" or "what the hell was I thinking?" as only politicians of his stature can), I am going to take him at his word that he will not be a contender for the White House come this November, and instead it will be some other Republican running on the banner.

This is almost certainly good news for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  Ryan was the candidate with the biggest name recognition who could command the convention hall and the rules committees in Cleveland, likely serving as a compromise candidate that both men are hoping to avoid.  However, it also means that the establishment, who actively hates both men, have no obvious frontrunner, something that I would imagine they would rectify in the coming weeks and months.

The reality is, of course, that the Republicans are in for a massive sideshow in Cleveland regardless of what happens.  Donald Trump is the only candidate left who can mathematically achieve 1237 votes on the first ballot, and while I suspect he'll have quite a number of big victories coming up in states like Connecticut, New York, and Maryland, the likelihood of Trump nabbing that lofty number seems just out of reach, particularly in light of his recent delegate defeats in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Louisiana.  While, due to the vote-number discrepancies between caucuses and primaries (more people vote in primaries), it's been relatively recent that a national popular vote winner lost the nomination (Hillary Clinton did so as recently as 2008), the reality is that the popular vote winner, the man who has won the most delegates, and the man who has won the most states (this likely seems true for Trump when all is said and done), has never lost the nomination in modern political history.  Denying Trump that and relying upon obviously arbitrary rules very much goes into his narrative that he is being "treated unfairly," and I suspect that if he were to go into the convention in that position and still lose, it would be an ugly battle on his side and he would let loose on the national media and on Twitter attacking the eventual nominee.  I doubt Trump would be able to mount much of a campaign for president (the filing deadlines at that point would be too extreme to get on the ballot), but if he could get even 3-4% of the Republican electorate to stay home, it would guarantee a President Clinton and likely Democratic wins up-and-down the ballot.

The second most likely situation is that Ted Cruz wins on the second ballot, and with Paul Ryan out of the race I suspect that this is what is going to happen.  Cruz has been playing the long-game, scooping up delegates wherever he can find them, and knowing how the race actually works, as is evidenced by him taking more delegates and stacking the second ballot to be a bolt from Trump.  Cruz's goal right now is to game the system enough so that no one other than he and Trump appear to be options-it's quite clear that the GOP establishment would also like to skip Cruz, who appears to have a lot of skeletons considering that many of his past colleagues don't like him at all, and I suspect Hillary Clinton is fine facing off against him if Trump isn't an option, but the RNC can't run against Cruz if they don't have a proper candidate.

This is why Paul Ryan's decision is so important.  Ryan was the only candidate in the entire race that felt like a compromise.  Everyone in the GOP knows that, eventually, Paul Ryan will become a Republican nominee.  That's not really up for debate at this point-the question is when.  Giving him the banner in 2016, after all of the headaches and embarrassments brought on by "the greatest slate of candidates we've ever seen" (hard to imagine at this point that people once called the nominees this year this moniker) would be a way to save face.  Any other nominees are going to be a problem for the GOP.

It was not for nothing that Ryan wisely chose the words "if you want to be president, you should actually run for it."  Ryan didn't say running, and his implication may be that he wants someone who was running earlier in the cycle who dropped out to take the baton.  This may be a direct smack against John Kasich, who is surely the candidate, if the RNC just got to vote for the remaining three candidates, who would win the nomination in a landslide but despite beautiful polling numbers against Hillary Clinton, Kasich has been a non-entity this entire election season, other than a second place finish in New Hampshire and winning his home state of Ohio.  It would be insulting to the GOP electorate to pick him after most of the states rejected the notion.  Even the hybrid ticket of Kasich/Rubio, which feels like a possibility (Rubio still has at least some of his delegates left, though how many is being decided by GOP arbitrators), would be hard to convince some of the GOP delegates of on the floor after Rubio flailed miserably late in the campaign.

Other candidates from this past cycle are questionable.  Ben Carson poises the same problem as Trump, Chris Christie endorsed Trump and killed his political career, Rick Perry is still Rick Perry, and Jeb Bush, of course, started out the frontrunner and flamed out badly.  And these are just the A-Team.  I've seen the name Scott Walker bandied around quite frequently, and honestly this isn't the worst idea the GOP has had as he has the conservative credentials and (this is important) results-based governance that he could tote as a compromise candidate like few others would, but he polled at 2% when he dropped out months ago, and he'd be relatively easy for Clinton to run against in high-unemployment states like Nevada considering Wisconsin's economic situation compared to neighboring states like Minnesota.  It's clear that Ryan wants one of these candidates as the nominee (perhaps Kasich/Rubio or Rubio/Kasich), or perhaps he wants to ensure that certain other rising stars, ones that might be his opponents four years from now (Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, and Ben Sasse come to mind) won't swing in and rescue the GOP while he was caught protesting too much.  Or perhaps he just wants to save his former boss Mitt Romney the embarrassment of not realizing his time in the sun has past.

The reality is, though, that Paul Ryan would run if he thought he could win in November.  Politicians at his level, especially ones who clearly want to be president, don't let something like timing stand in their way.  Paul Ryan is smart enough to know that people who waited too long to run (Chris Christie and John McCain come to mind), don't always end up victorious.  The next golden boy is on a campaign stump somewhere right now, ready to take over Ryan's perch.  And yet, as Speaker of the House with a near certain (albeit smaller) House majority ready to carry him for at least the next 2-4 years, Ryan can pretty much guarantee frontrunner status in 2020, a year where the Democrats will have had the Oval Office for twelve years and he can come in after a massive Republican wave.  Paul Ryan making these sorts of statements, trying to find some way to save face while still appearing the hero, aren't just about him not being able to win in 2016-it's clear that he thinks no Republican can do so.

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