Earlier this week, I gave the final exam for my Congress course. One of the questions, verbatim, was as follows: "Is Paul Ryan's speakership pretty much fucked?" If you are reading this blog, you probably aren't surprised that I would do that on a final exam. For all my Trump-bashing, I have no problem with "vulgarity".
And after I gave that exam, Paul Ryan indicated that he was not yet ready to endorse Donald Trump. Trump, in response, indicated that he wasn't willing to support Ryan. That leads me back to two of my earlier posts. On March 24, I posted this after Paul Ryan gave a speech whining about the tone of our politics, without naming Trump. At the time, it looked like he was angling for the presidential nomination in that ridiculous "contested convention" scenario. The gist was as follows: Trump is unlikely to defeat Clinton, leaving Paul Ryan as Speaker with a Democratic president. That puts Ryan in the same trap that ensnared John Boehner. He wouldn't be able to extract concessions from Hillary for a debt ceiling increase, and increasing the debt ceiling without concessions would simply lead to another revolt by the House Freedom Caucus. Better to steal the nomination from Trump at the convention, and then lose to Hillary while Trump sabotages the Republican campaign. At least that way, Ryan becomes leader of the party in exile.
That didn't pan out. Soon after, Ryan gave the "Shermanesque" refusal to be the Republican nominee. Now he's trapped. And that leads to my March 30 post, here, discussing how strange it is that the Republican Party might not unify around Trump. And here we are, with the party failing to unify, and Paul Ryan in particular conspicuously refusing to endorse Trump.
What's going on here? Two things. First, Ryan is a true believer conservative, and second, he knows he's trapped. On the first point, Paul Ryan believes that tax cuts are the policy solution to most problems. He hands out copies of Ayn Rand's books to his staffers and interns, and describes Atlas Shrugged as his guiding text. Donald Trump believes himself to be a Rand-ian hero who achieves wealth because of his intrinsic greatness, but he doesn't believe in "objectivist" politics. Why? Because he doesn't believe in anything other than the greatness of Donald Trump. This is a guy who has advocated single-payer healthcare and massive tax increases. Ryan can't really support Trump because he knows Trump is an unprincipled fraud. A big part of this is a sincere reflection of Paul Ryan's contempt for Trump.
Then there's that trap. If Trump can't beat Hillary, then Paul Ryan falls into the trap I discussed in my previous post. He will be torn between the House Freedom Caucus's demands and reality. He won't get a way out by stealing the nomination from Trump at the convention, so what's his plan?
I honestly don't know. And that's why I asked my Congress students if Paul Ryan is just fucked now. He can't survive a four year speakership with President Hillary Clinton. He can't take the presidential nomination as a way out. He can't just step down as Speaker without a new position of some stature without losing his political clout. I don't see a good way out for him.
So here's a messy one. Splinter the party. I wrote off the contested convention scenario for a long time because I thought it would destroy the Republican Party, and those who have power within an institution have no incentive to destroy the institution. Pretty soon, though, the Republican Party may fail to give Paul Ryan any power. If the Speaker of the House, modern scion of the conservative movement, goes to war with the presidential nominee, we don't know what happens.
But we have a pretty good idea of what happens if they don't go to war. Trump loses to Clinton, and Ryan faces the same revolt that took down Boehner.
Trump might win the presidency. A downturn in the economy would allow the proverbial "indicted ham sandwich" to win the White House if the out-party nominated it. And even if Clinton does win, Ryan might find a way to quash the rebellion that Boehner faced. But right now, the party isn't unifying. The sitting Speaker of the House is feuding with his party's presidential nominee.
We are in strange waters here...