Spotted lily

Spotted lily

Friday, October 16, 2015

Paul Ryan Under the Microscope

After Kevin McCarthy announced late last week that he was no longer a candidate to become the next Speaker of the House, Representative Paul Ryan was often mentioned as a possible popular choice for the job.  There were plenty of stories last Friday about many people (both fellow political figures and reporters) repeatedly calling Ryan and following him around Washington, DC before he “escaped” back to Wisconsin, so that one could half expect to stumble across him trying to hide in some inconspicuous location here -- perhaps disguised as a tree in a park, for example.

While politicians generally love being in the limelight as much as possible, I think that Mr. Ryan would have preferred to avoid a lot of the attention this time.  I would imagine that it must be gratifying to know that many of your colleagues and others believe that you would be a good choice for an important and prestigious position such as Speaker of the House, and it would also be flattering to have them go out of their way to try to convince you that you should seek the job.  However, if these attempts at persuasion remain frequent and persistent even after you have repeatedly declined, at some point they would likely become burdensome pressures rather than welcome compliments.  I actually feel quite sorry for my Congressman these days, as I think he finds himself in a rather unenviable situation.

Congressman Ryan is reportedly still thinking about the possibility of changing his mind and becoming a candidate for Speaker.  I obviously don't know all of the factors he is weighing as he makes his final decision, but as an outside observer, it looks to me like the scale is overwhelmingly tipped against running.

To start with, there are a couple of basic but very important arguments against Ryan taking on the Speaker’s role:  it is not what he wants to do, and he already has what he has considered his “dream” job for a long time.  If he would be most satisfied being Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and spending his time working on policies about taxes and Social Security, etc., why should he give that up?   I think that it would be better, for Ryan and for all of us, if he continues doing the job that best fits his interests and strengths rather than taking on something that does not suit him as well, especially since his heart certainly does not seem to be in it.  Ryan has also indicated that the additional time commitments required of the Speaker would be problematic for him, because they would keep him away from his family more than is already the case. 

These factors would apply to Paul Ryan even if the vacancy for Speaker of the House had occurred under “normal” circumstances, but right now, most sensible people would likely have serious reservations about the position.  As long as Barack Obama is President, there are severe limits on what Republicans in Congress can actually accomplish, but the voters who elected them expect some results.  The very serious disagreements among House Republicans about goals to pursue and tactics to use make it difficult to reach consensus and secure the votes necessary to pass things.  Under these conditions, the next Speaker is going to have a very difficult job indeed.  Since the dissatisfaction of some House members with the current leadership actually resulted in the impending departure of Speaker John Boehner and the abandoned candidacy of his expected successor, Majority Leader McCarthy, anyone thinking of running for Speaker should anticipate that some close scrutiny and possibly unpleasant evaluation may stand between him or her and the position.

With that in mind, when I first started reading that Congressman Ryan was being discussed as the most likely (or even only) consensus choice to be the next Speaker of the House, I did wonder if those, including the members of the Freedom Caucus, who had led the charge against Boehner and McCarthy were really OK with Ryan.  While the present situation was precipitated by their great dissatisfaction with the current leadership, Paul Ryan has generally been supportive of the leaders and their decisions, and there has been some unhappiness on the Right with the Congressman in recent years.  In the week since the flurry of discussion about a possible Ryan candidacy for Speaker began, I don’t know if concerns about him have been raised by his colleagues in the House, but some members of the conservative media have been detailing their criticisms of him and his perceived shortcomings as a potential Speaker.  Since this is happening even though Congressman Ryan has not yet even agreed to be a candidate for the job, I can only imagine that it would greatly intensify if he were to actually do so.  While I also disagree with or question Paul Ryan’s positions on some issues, such as immigration and trade promotion authority for the President, and would have preferred that he advocate some different approaches to the conducting of business in the House, I still consider him a valuable member of the conservative team and support him overall.  I would hate to see him be talked into running for House Speaker against his better judgment only to be rejected as McCarthy was and have his reputation and career tarnished in the process.

Were Paul Ryan to actually become Speaker of the House, it is possible that he would do a great job, and I wish him well whether he decides to seek the position or not.  But, do I think he should run?  Yes -- as quickly as he can away from the Speaker’s race and those trying to convince him to join it.