Conservative Groups Opposing Paul Ryan For Speaker Before He Even Announces
Paul Ryan has yet to say if he will run for Speaker of the House, but that hasn't stopped the opposition on the hard right from forming already.
Paul Ryan has yet to officially say if he will reverse his previous position and run for Speaker of the House as many Republicans are urging him to do in the wake of last week’s decision by Kevin McCarthy to withdraw his name from consideration, but he’s already being attacked by many of the same forces on the right who went after McCarthy and John Boehner:
WASHINGTON — Far-right media figures, relatively small in number but potent in their influence, have embarked on a furious Internet expedition to cover Representative Paul D. Ryan in political silt.
In 2012 when Mitt Romney picked Mr. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, as his running mate, the concern among some in their party was that Mr. Ryan was too conservative, particularly when it came to overhauling social programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Now, as he agonizes over whether to answer the appeal of his colleagues to become their next speaker, the far right is trotting out a fresh concern: Mr. Ryan is too far left.
He is being criticized on issues ranging from a 2008 vote to bail out large banks to his longstanding interest in immigration reform to his work on a bipartisan budget measure. On Sunday night, the Drudge Report — a prime driver of conservative commentary — dedicated separate headlines to bashing Mr. Ryan on policy positions.
Even a self-congratulatory book outlining how Mr. Ryan and two other Republican House leaders drafted Tea Party candidates to help them take over the House in 2010 — “Young Guns” — is being recast by some as a manual of how to be traitorous to conservatism.
“Tryouts for speaker continue,” Phyllis Schlafly, founder and chairwoman of the conservative Eagle Forum, said in a statement Friday, when Mr. Ryan was escaping Capitol Hill for the week. “The kingmakers are so desperate for someone to carry their liberal priorities that they are trying to force Congressman Paul Ryaninto a job he does not want.”
The influence of conservative websites has enraged members who were once considered right of center themselves, and who are desperately trying to keep Mr. Ryan from getting spooked.
“Anyone who attacks Paul Ryan as being insufficiently conservative is either woefully misinformed or maliciously destructive,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “Paul Ryan has played a major role in advancing the conservative cause and creating the Republican House majority. His critics are not true conservatives. They are radical populists who neither understand nor accept the institutions, procedures and traditions that are the basis of constitutional governance.”
To some degree, the attacks on Mr. Ryan, so far an unwilling draft pick by his colleagues to replace Speaker John A. Boehner, reflect criticism of flashes of pragmatism by Mr. Ryan, the architect of his party’s conservative budget dogma.
Since the 2012 general election defeat, Mr. Ryan has indeed become more of a consensus builder and leader in the House, even as he has maintained his ideological tilt. He has largely voted for bills to keep the government operating and the debts paid when many other Republicans vote against them these days.
bill of particulars against Mr. Ryan have shifted from the national debt and spending to immigration. Lately, they have focused on Mr. Ryan’s enthusiastic support for free trade, traditionally a policy that has gotten broad Republican support but is now being used as a bat against him. Beyond Mr. Ryan, the conservative targets have seemingly shifted from old time establishment lawmakers to a process seemingly more akin to random selection.
On Monday, a Tea Party group in Alabama set out warning flares to Representative Martha Roby, a Republican, advising her that she would come under fire if she supported Mr. Ryan for speaker.
While the influence of Fox news on conservative voters has been well documented, “There’s a lot we don’t know about this bumper crop of digital news start-ups of the past five or 10 years, especially ad-supported ones,” said Jesse Holcomb the associate director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center. “Many aren’t public and don’t produce earnings statements and aren’t required to release information on revenue or profit margins.”
But House Republicans and their staff say millions of Republican primary voters have their opinions shaped by sites like Breitbart.com, which define a version of the conservative position of the moment, then whip their readers into a frenzy, imploring them to oppose anyone who takes a different position.
“Our goal is not influence; it is reporting and highlighting stories important to grass roots conservatives,” said Alex Marlow, the editor in chief of Breitbart. “To those in Congress and on the national political stage who want to better understand this constituency’s interests and worldview, we feel Breitbart News is a good place to start. Our focus on issues like spending, trade and particularly immigration are a reflection of the fact that there are massive populations of center-right Americans who do not favor the policies most often associated with the Republican Party establishment.”
The conservative rap on Mr. Ryan’s fiscal positions is especially curious. As Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan was the author of plans that would convert Medicare into something akin to a voucher plan, where seniors would get government subsidies to purchase private insurance and move away from government-run health care.
He also wanted to turn Medicaid into increasingly tight block grants to state governments, and he also called for drastic cuts in food stamps, Pell grants and many other domestic programs.
But in 2013, Mr. Ryan and Ms. Murray reached an agreement, which passed 332 to 94 in the House, that modestly raised spending restrictions on military and domestic programs for two years, bringing temporary peace to the incessant budget wars that are now eliciting the wrath of the conservative industrial complex.
Immigration is proving to be an even more ripe area for venomous assessment of Mr. Ryan. He pressed for a vote on an immigration reform bill with his Republican colleagues in 2013, noting that “earned legalization is an issue I think the House can and will deal with” but was rebuffed.
While 53 percent of Republicans support some earned path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, said Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, citing a 2013 poll, “support drops well below majority to 45 percent among Republicans who identify with the Tea Party,” he said.
It may surprise those who do not pay much attention to conservative media to see Paul Ryan becoming a target of the hard right base and the activists at sites like Breitbart and Red State. During the early years of the Obama Administration after all, and especially after the GOP gained control of the House and Ryan became Chairman of the Budget Committee, the Wisconsin Congressman became something of a darling on the right both for his criticisms of the Obama White House and the policy proposals that he presented on his own. When President Obama gave his first State of the Union Address after the GOP gained control of the House, Ryan was tapped to deliver the Republican response in an effort to move beyond the rather tepid and not well received responses delivered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in 2009 and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Each year, Ryan has released a long-term budget plan that he says is designed to address the nation’s long-term entitlement and debt issues that has always been well-received on the right, although its worth noting that few of his major ideas ended up being incorporated into the final product. As 2012 drew near, there were many who called on Ryan to consider running for President himself, a major step for a member of the House notwithstanding his tenure, and while Ryan demurred he did end up on the list of potential Vice-Presidential running mates and ultimately, of course, Mitt Romney’s running mate. In the wake of the Republican loss in 2012, Ryan was still very well regarded on the right and even leading other potential candidates in early polls before ultimately and unsurprisingly deciding not to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. In other words, Paul Ryan was in many ways the Republican “golden boy” who could seemingly do no wrong.
Despite all of that, though, it’s always been clear that while Ryan has been well-regarded by the Tea Party and other elements on the right wing of the Republican Party, he has never really been a part of them. For one thing, he was elected to Congress nearly twenty years ago rather than as part of the Tea Party wave that brought people such as Kevin McCarthy and others into office. To that extent, he is arguably more of a creature of the Republican Congress of the late 90s than the Republican Congress that took office after the 2010 elections, and there are many ways that it shows. In addition to his positions on immigration and trade, Ryan also differentiates from the hard right of the GOP in other ways, such as his support in 2008 for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a vote that has become something of a rallying cry for many of the people who seem to have risen up to oppose Ryan’s candidacy even before he announces it. While his budgets do cut spending and attempt to reform entitlement spending, they do not go nearly as far as those proposed by newer members of the House and Senate do. Additionally, Ryan clearly doesn’t seem to have the temperament of the Tea Party wing of the party and seems closer to Boehner and the more senior members of the caucus than those who have come into office in the past five years. More importantly, perhaps, Ryan has shown a willingness to work across the aisles with Democrats and make the compromises necessary to get legislation passed. This is best seen in his work with former Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray to pull together a Federal Budget in the wake of the 2013 shutdown, a move that was widely praised in Washington but widely attacked on the right, where Ryan was accused of selling out and giving in to the Democrats even though the final budget deal included many provisions acceptable to conservatives. Ever since then, Ryan has been as much a target for attack from that wing of the GOP has he has been a recipient of praise, and that’s what’s behind this preemptive effort to attack him before he even announces his intentions regarding the Speakership.
No doubt, this wave of opposition will likely have an impact on Ryan’s decision going forward, which is unlikely to be announced while Congress is on recess this week. Reports since last week have indicated that Ryan would likely only agree to run if it was clear that he would have enough support to win easily on the House Floor in a vote, thus avoiding the problem that apparently derailed McCarthy’s bid last week. Beyond that, though, it seems clear that if Ryan did take on the role of Speaker he’d only do so if he had some reassurances that he wouldn’t face the same kind of protracted opposition from the House Freedom Caucus and others that Boehner faced throughout his tenure. The opposition that is already forming against him seems to show that this is unlikely and that even if Ryan does end up changing his mind and becoming Speaker, he’s likely to face many of the same headaches that John Boehner did immediately upon taking office.