Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Paul Ryan: To Nominate or Not to Nominate (It's Definitely a Question)

If we are to believe Politico (and why not-it's a relatively slow news week so far), the Republicans, at least the powers that be, are making a play for the Republican nomination and trying to do it without anyone named Trump or Cruz.  The biggest rumor on the street right now is that Speaker Paul Ryan, the handsome Wisconsinite that has the distinction of both being second-in-line to the Oval Office and having run four years ago to be first-in-line, is being secretly courted to be the next Republican nominee for the White House.  Ryan, as has been his stance pretty much the entire last four years, denies such pronouncements, but lest we forget he also claimed not to be interested in the veep slot (until he got it) and the Speaker's gavel (until, once again, he got it), so his refusals are more of an if-at-first-you-don't-succeed sort of situation rather than him simply not wanting the job.  The question is, of course, is this a good idea (for the Republicans and for Paul Ryan personally), and what would this mean for the race for the White House?  I figured I'd delve into all of these topics with our Tuesday morning article.

For starters, it goes without saying that the Republicans are in a horrible situation right now in the race for the White House.  Hillary Clinton is clobbering both of their frontrunners, and neither of those men are someone the GOP really wants at the top of the ticket for a number of years.  As I mentioned yesterday, I think that Ted Cruz has officially turned the corner and is now more likely to win the nomination than Donald Trump, but neither of these men are any GOP power-broker's first choice.  The only reason that the party is clamoring for Cruz is that he's (more than likely) not going to call Mexican-Americans rapists and tell women they should be punished for having an abortion.  That's a very low bar, and with Gov. John Kasich's campaign going nowhere fast, it stands to reason that, given an out, the GOP might try and find a way to save face.  Paul Ryan is certainly their most high-profile candidate under 70 that hasn't already lost a presidential election.

The reality is that Paul Ryan would certainly do better than either Cruz or Trump.  I'm starting to feel, considering the relatively dismal race that she's run so far, that Hillary Clinton is a candidate that probably was over-estimated.  In 2008 many people said that she lost to the only man who could have possibly beat her, but in hindsight that may simply have not been true-Clinton, a woman that may end up an excellent president, is kind of a lousy candidate.  She doesn't have the common touch of George W. Bush, the eloquence of Barack Obama or the glad-handing magnetism of her husband.  She'd be the worst retail politician/president since George HW Bush, quite frankly, and most of the reason that she is likely to be the next POTUS has little to do with politics or her stature, and more to do with the GOP simply deciding to commit collective suicide by making the race between metaphorical measles and ebola.  Against Cruz or Trump, people are just going to hold their nose for Hillary Clinton for four years, knowing that she's someone that will keep the country going for another term when they can vote her out.

As a result, Ryan, who is a competent and intelligent man who has humble beginnings, but has brainpower that was clearly lacking in the Rubio campaign that also tried to run a race that was similar to what Ryan likely envisioned for himself, would certainly best both of them and give the GOP a real shot at the electoral college.  Quite frankly, a Ryan/Nikki Haley ballot would be very difficult for Hillary Clinton to defeat, but before we start pronouncing the Wisconsin Republican "#45," it's worth noting a few things.  One, and most importantly, Paul Ryan chose not to run for president in 2016.  I don't think that's really an issue in terms of him wanting to be president (it is clear, and has been clear for some time now, that Ryan desperately wants his career to end in the Oval Office), but there was a reason that he declined a bid for national office in 2016, and I think it has less to do with familial obligations than he let's on (after all, he took on the Speaker's gavel and ran for VP in 2012).

I think some of the reasons for Ryan declining 2016 have dissipated.  It's hard to remember now, but a year or so ago Hillary Clinton seemed basically unbeatable.  Many people were already talking about whether or not she could win reelection, assuming her initial win was a foregone conclusion.  Even if she lost, the GOP nomination was a series of heavyweight contenders, including Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and at the top of the heap, Jeb Bush.  Paul Ryan was at risk of being noise in a crowded room, and splitting the establishment vote against the likes of Walker and Bush.  And even if he won, he'd probably be too bloodied up after Clinton skated through her primary.  No, he decided to wait it out, knowing that he was young enough at 46 to wait eight or even twelve years, and then make his play for the nomination ala Bob Dole or Ronald Reagan, waiting until it was his moment in the sun.

While neither of those are as big of factors as they were back then, that lack of steel in his veins and his calculating nature are not gone, and it's not like 2016 is the perfect avenue a later date would be.  Ryan can see, after all, that by skipping out on 2016 he'll have a clear, obvious path to a much easier nomination in 2020.  By then the Democrats will have had the White House for twelve years and history proves that's a hard hold even for a popular incumbent (look at George HW Bush).  By then the establishment will want to get out ahead of the crowd in a way similar to what the Democrats did in 2016 with Clinton, and the DNC is a roomful of morons when it comes to retaking the lower chamber, leaving the House still in Republican hands, so Ryan will have been the foil to Clinton for four straight years.  He'll have a natural edge into the race, and could not only win the White House, he could do so by vanquishing an incumbent, much like his hero Ronald Reagan.

2016 is not without its foibles, after all.  Clinton will use every trick known to mankind to defeat Ryan, and one of those will be to make sure Trump and Cruz voters know that he didn't "earn" the nomination.  I honestly don't think that that many Republicans will be upset if Ryan emerges victorious, but even a 2-3 point drop in support for Ryan (especially if, say, Trump runs an ill-advised write-in campaign or tells people to stay home) would likely be lethal.  It's also worth noting that Paul Ryan may look and sound like an excellent candidate, but him actually running is a slightly different story.  Lest we forget, in 2012 Ryan seemed like a godsend to the Romney campaign, someone who could balance the Massachusetts governor's patrician demeanor, but Ryan was really just a "first do no harm candidate."  By most accounts he lost the debate against Joe Biden and wasn't even able to win his home state.  Now, things might be different with him on the top of the ticket, but there's a lot you can say about Hillary Clinton, and that she's a poor debater is not one of them.  Clinton certainly would have the edge on Ryan in a debate, and considering that's going to be a critical component of his brief campaign (he won't have run for months or have the perfectly-packaged love-in that Clinton will have with the DNC where she's the clear frontrunner), running in 2016 carries a lot of risks that 2020 just doesn't.

It's also worth noting for Ryan that losing a presidential election is a LOT different than losing a vice presidential one.  Walter Mondale and Bob Dole have both lost nationally and then went on to get the nomination in their own right, but no person in nearly fifty years has won the nomination, lost, and then gotten another shot.  If Paul Ryan is the nominee in 2016, it's likely it's his only shot unless he wins.  That's a big deal for a man who clearly wants to be president.

One final thought before we go, of course, is whether or not this is something the GOP really wants to see happen.  After all, while Ryan being on the ticket in 2016 may stop the bleeding a bit, the Republicans may not want to risk this being one of those rare times that the GOP has a long memory.  After all, if Cruz or Trump implode as I suspect, the GOP can use that argument against those who claim a candidate wasn't a "true conservative" or "was too insider" in four years when they want to get a Paul Ryan on the ticket.  No lasting damage will probably be done that hasn't already been done-Trump seems like an aberration, and Cruz would probably help the party in the long run if a big loss buried some of their attitudes toward minorities and the GLBT community.  They'll surely still have hte House, so there won't be anything getting passed that's too far-left, and in 2018 there's a strong chance the Republicans win back the Senate, and Clinton would be extremely vulnerable headed into 2020.  If Ryan hasn't already run, they'll have an obvious trump card to use against her, and perhaps more importantly, their own voters who might try and find another Trump.

But if the party circumvents the voters, they risk a splintered party for years and a generation who mistrusts that their primary votes mattered.  Trump's candidacy, in my opinion, is partially the result of a cult of personality-I don't buy that anyone could have done this, it took someone with a deep skill in salesmanship and a complete lack of hubris.  However, his party still has the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Ben Carson, and any number of other lesser-known politicians who could feel so threatened by the GOP that they split into a third party.  A strong third party (one that can pull 5-15% each election away from the Republicans) would doom the Right for a generation, perhaps even giving their opponents a dominance not seen since the late 19th Century (though in that case the Republicans enjoyed the fruits of one-sidedness).  It's not impossible (just look at the demise of the Whigs), and almost certainly the path to Paul Ryan's victory at a convention will be messy and potentially critically-wound his party.  It's a big decision for both he and the powers that be in the GOP, and one neither will take particularly likely.

But just know that Paul Ryan is hardly General Sherman-he very much will run.  It's just a question of when.

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