The Paul Ryan Scenario: Unlikely To Succeed, And A Sign Of Total Desperation

With the Republican nomination fight down to two incredibly unappealing candidates, some Republican insiders are talking about looking elsewhere for a nominee.

Paul Ryan

With Donald Trump and Ted Cruz continue to fight it out for the Republican nomination, and John Kasich continues to stay in the race in the hope that a deadlocked convention would somehow turn to him as a compromise candidate, some top Republicans are looking at a potential nominee who hasn’t stood for a single primary:

On the eve of the Wisconsin primaries, top Republicans are becoming increasingly vocal about their long-held belief that Speaker Paul Ryan will wind up as the nominee, perhaps on the fourth ballot at a chaotic Cleveland convention.

One of the nation’s best-wired Republicans, with an enviable prediction record for this cycle, sees a 60 percent chance of a convention deadlock and a 90 percent chance that delegates turn to Ryan — ergo, a 54 percent chance that Ryan, who’ll start the third week of July as chairman of the Republican National Convention, will end it as the nominee.

“He’s the most conservative, least establishment member of the establishment,” the Republican source said. “That’s what you need to be.”

Ryan, who’s more calculating and ambitious than he lets on, is running the same playbook he did to become speaker: saying he doesn’t want it, that it won’t happen. In both cases, the maximum leverage is to not want it — and to be begged to do it. He and his staff are trying to be as Shermanesque as it gets. Ryan repeated his lack of interest Monday morning in an interview from Israel with radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Of course in this environment, saying you don’t want the job is the only way to get it. If he was seen to be angling for it, he’d be stained and disqualified by the current mess.

But Ryan, 46, a likable Midwesterner, could look too tempting to resist as Republicans finally focus on a beatable Hillary Clinton. He got rave reviews for a “State of American Politics” speech on March 23 (hashtag on his podium: “#ConfidentAmerica,” the title of his high-minded manifesto at the Library of Congress in December). In the “State of Politics” address, Ryan offered himself as the anti-Trump (without mentioning The Don): “Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults.”

On “Morning Joe” Monday morning, Joe Scarborough said that if Trump falls even one vote short of a clinch, the convention will “look for someone else”: “If Trump doesn’t get the number, they’ll say they have rules for a reason.” And Karl Rove told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week: “A fresh face might be the thing that would give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.”

Top Republicans say “fresh face” is code for “Paul Ryan.”

This isn’t the first time in the election cycle that the idea of an outside candidate who hasn’t run in the 2016 primaries somehow ending up with the Republican nomination as a result of a deadlocked convention. Other names that have been mentioned by various names in the recent past have included Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, while other pundits have talked up the idea of one of the candidates who has dropped out of the race, such as Marco Rubio, somehow ending up with the nomination. To say the least, such an outcome would be unprecedented in the modern era where Presidential nominees are largely chosen by delegates awarded based on the outcome primaries and caucuses and would instead hearken back to the era when nominees were chosen in the proverbial “smoke-filled” room by party insiders.

In order for it to happen a series of unlikely scenarios would have to come together. First of all, obviously, it would have to be the case that neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz would come to the Republican convention with the majority needed to win on the first ballot. Second, it would have to be the case that no candidate is able to put together a majority on a second or third ballot to the point where the convention is threatening to devolve into chaos on live television. At that point, you’d start to hear the rumors from reporters on the floor about a “surge of support” for a Ryan candidacy and discussions about how a “reluctant” Paul Ryan is being lobbied to throw his hat in the ring for the good of the party and then we see support start to build in the balloting for Ryan while Trump, Cruz, and Kasich fades away while old party hands slowly switch their support to Ryan as the only candidate able to unite a party badly ripped apart by a tough nomination fight until, by the fifth or sixth ballot Speaker of the House Ryan suddenly becomes the Republican nominee and the rest is history.

If all of this reads like something out of Hollywood, that’s largely because it is, in the form of the season finale of the penultimate season of The West Wing. Even in The West Wing’s version of this scenario, though, the outsider candidate, Pennsylvania Governor Baker, also known as Al Bundy, ends up falling short of actually winning a majority and the nomination ultimately goes to one of the two candidates with the most delegates prior to the convention. That’s because, even in that fictional universe, the idea of a nominee who hasn’t been vetted by the primary process, hasn’t put him or herself before the voters, and hasn’t participated at all in the process somehow walking in and taking the nomination from one of the candidates who have is simply too absurd to be conceivable. Yes, it’s a scenario that’s possible under convention rules, but it’s incredibly unlikely simply because it would undermine the legitimacy of the entire process that we’ve been going through for the past year or more and pretend as if voters are going to accept a return to those days of the smoke filled room. More likely than not, it’s a move that would mean that the party would most assuredly lose the Presidential race, thus making the nominee little more than someone intended to limit the damage of a loss rather than a candidate who actually has a chance of winning.

Given all of this, the odds of the Paul Ryan scenario actually playing itself out seems incredibly unlikely. For one thing, one suspects that insiders trying to force an outside candidate on the convention would cause chaos among delegates and among the wider crowd watching the convention at home. Not only would it play into the hands of anti-establishment candidates like Trump and Cruz, but it would also likely upset even mainline Republicans who object to the idea of the convention completely ignoring the voters. Second, it seems unlikely that Ryan would agree to something like this since it’s unlikely that he would actually win the General Election under these circumstances, which essentially means that his political career would be over. Finally, as Aaron Rupar notes, there are solid policy-based reasons why Ryan would not be a good fit for the Republican Party as it exists in 2016:

The first is immigration, which a recent survey of Republican voters found to be “the animating issue” for the GOP base this year above any other. Trump and Cruz both favor deporting undocumented immigrants. That view has proved popular during the Republican primary season, though a recent poll indicates support for Trump’s border wall is weaker than it was a few months ago. But Ryan, liked failed presidential candidate Marco Rubio, has backed some form of comprehensive immigration reform. That position hasn’t been popular with Republican voters this primary season and probably wouldn’t be among base voters in the general campaign either.

The second is trade. Ryan supports the Obama administration-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal that is currently stalled in Congress. Trump and Cruz do not, arguing it’s a bad deal for American workers. Working-class Republicans in Rust Belt states might feel betrayed if delegates coronate Ryan despite him not running during the primary, a primary during which the two Republicans who have received the most votes have made opposition to TPP-style trade centerpieces of their campaigns.

Both Trump and Cruz have warned that things might get ugly in Cleveland if Republican insiders follow through with a plan to nominate a candidate who didn’t run in the primary. Last month, Trump notoriously predicted there will be riots if he ends up being the top vote-getter but is denied the nomination. Cruz, speaking on Monday about the possibility that a “compromise candidate” emerges at the convention, said, “It ain’t gonna happen. If it did, the people would quite rightly revolt.”

If nothing else, the fact that there is apparently open speculation about an outsider taking the GOP nomination is a sign of just how desperate Republican insiders have become. Despite having started out the election season with what many in the GOP claimed was a “dream” lineup of candidates that included nine former and sitting Governors and five former and sitting Senators, the GOP has somehow ended up with two frontrunners that seem to clearly be unelectable at the General Election level, meaning that the GOP stands to lose its fifth Presidential election out of the past seven. The idea of turning to someone else who could possibly win in what amounts to little more than the political equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass. It’s a sign of weakness, and an admission that the party has become so dysfunctional that it is unable to pick a candidate capable of winning on the national level. Those insiders would do better to try to figure out how it all turned out this way than engage in maneuvering that is unlikely to accomplish anything.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Congress, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    It should be noted that the West Wing scenario did not involve any candidate who seemed remotely Trump-like. The season was filmed (to my knowledge) around late 2005 and has since been seen as eerily prophetic of the 2008 race in the real world, with Vice President Bob Russell in the Hillary Clinton role, Congressman Santos in the Obama role, and Senator Vinick in the McCain role. Of course in the real world the Obama-Hillary fight never led to a contested convention, though it was probably the lengthiest nomination battle since Ford-Reagan in ’76.

  2. Franklin says:

    Although Trump’s and Cruz’s warning on this may seem like rhetoric, I actually do think riots/revolts are an actual possibility if somebody else (especially this RINO) was the nominee. I’m basing this largely on the violence that Trump promotes at his rallies, but I’m sure Cruz is a big believer in the tree of liberty being refreshed once in awhile.

  3. Pch101 says:

    Perhaps one-quarter of the country is too nutty, extremist and driven by ideology to be worthy of representation by a mainstream political party. The Democrats have figured this out; now the GOP needs to join them. (It’s not as if the Dems are going to even try to pick up those voters if the Republican establishment abandons them.)

    Let this generation’s Strom Thurmonds and George Wallaces form their own party, and let them see how well they (don’t) do with it. Perhaps some of them will eventually figure out that they’re a whining petulant minority, not a silent majority.

  4. Argon says:

    Fancy that. A party incapable of governing is also incapable of putting forth a sane candidate.

    The zombie-eyed granny starver from Wisconsin is also not a viable candidate.

  5. Tillman says:

    Wonder what concession Ryan will cave on to accept the nod.

    What am I talking about, this idea is insane.

    Ryan, who’s more calculating and ambitious than he lets on, is running the same playbook he did to become speaker: saying he doesn’t want it, that it won’t happen. In both cases, the maximum leverage is to not want it — and to be begged to do it. He and his staff are trying to be as Shermanesque as it gets. Ryan repeated his lack of interest Monday morning in an interview from Israel with radio host Hugh Hewitt.

    Of course in this environment, saying you don’t want the job is the only way to get it. If he was seen to be angling for it, he’d be stained and disqualified by the current mess.

    I’m guessing this is a Politico writer having a fever dream.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So they climbed onto the racist misogynistic religious fundamentalist tiger’s back and are surprised that after years of promising to feed it steak and instead giving it shoe leather to chew on, it now wants to eat them.

    Karma is a beach.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    “The Paul Ryan Scenario: Unlikely To Succeed, And A Sign Of Total Desperation”

    And yet, it’s the Republican Establishment’s best hope.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    If the convention is truly open, wide open, I can definitely see the Republican party moving to draft Paul Ryan. They did it on a lesser scale when they drafted him to be the Speaker, so why not to be the party nominee?

    He’s certainly more life-like than John Kasich, and he’s less dislikeable than Trump or Cruz. Also, he favors the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, which white working class voters think they want. He’s definitely not a RINO.

  9. CSK says:

    @Moosebreath:

    It’s no hope at all. The Trump supporters won’t stand for it. A few of the Cruz supporters might reluctantly go along, but most won’t.

    The base hates Ryan with an intensity that approaches rabid. To them, he’s a closet Democrat who’s accommodated Obama at every turn.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Exactly correct. But I have yet to read a Republican pundit that understands that is what happened. Every Republican I’ve read seems to believe some version of ‘Trump fell out of the sky and did this to us.’

  11. Moosebreath says:

    @CSK:

    Yes, that’s why it’s unlikely to succeed and a sign of total desperation. It’s still the best they’ve got.

  12. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Read this: http://www.thefederalist.com/2015/08/11/donald-trump-the-hipster-candidate/

    It strikes me as a pretty good explanation of how Trump became the candidate.

  13. Pch101 says:

    @CSK:

    At least he doesn’t waste time getting to the punchline that the GOP isn’t to blame. Our modern day Republicans have never taken responsibility for any of their failures, so why start now?

  14. grumpy realist says:

    Are the Elite cognizant of the fact that whoever runs is 99% likely going to do a belly flop, or are they still assuming that if they get the Right Guy they’ll win the presidency?

    Heck, if they want to cut off the Tea Partiers at the pass and get rid of the little oik at the same time, just let Cruz run. He’ll scare the piss out of most of the country, get flattened in the General Election, and vanish from history. And it will definitely give a thump on the head to the section of the party whining incessantly about how the Repubs “haven’t run a REAL Conservative yet!”

  15. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    I think the larger point was that no party (even The Trump Party) could satisfy these people, because they don’t want to be satisfied. They want to be enraged.

    A few weeks ago, I was reading an exchange between a Trump supporter and a non-Trump supporter. The Trump supporter cut off the “discussion” by saying: “You don’t get it. We want to see blood running in the streets.”

  16. Pch101 says:

    @CSK:

    What I read sounded like a bunch of lame excuses. It would seem that good analysts don’t get to ride on the right-wing clown car.

    Trump’s (alleged positions) match those of the GOP base so it is obvious why they like him — they found a guy who says what they’ve been thinking.

    The problem for the two-thirds of Republicans who would prefer to have someone else is that they can’t agree on who that someone else should be. They’re a fragmented group now that the establishment has lost control over them.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    How many times in one’s life are they afforded the opportunity to watch a major political party self-destruct in real time? This is a political nerd’s fantasy come true.

  18. Tony W says:

    Under this scenario we’d see Trump’s inevitable 3rd party run – meaning the Republican party will split (as it probably should). If Bernie Sanders, then, sees an opportunity to split from the D’s as well, I wonder if this false-dichotomy will be revealed and the country will enjoy a phase of 3-4 parties?

    This election has the best setup we’ve seen in years to be truly historical, interesting and have long-lasting effects.

  19. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    I could be wrong, but at this point, I think all this business about finding a fresh face, or a compromise candidate, is purely pro forma. Anyone with a grain of common sense knows it’s over for the Republicans.

  20. Gustopher says:

    Trump’s plan to build the wall (he released a two-pager about intercepting money immigrants are shipping home) actually has revenue streams beyond cutting taxes on the wealthy and waiting for Laffer Curve Unicorns to fill the government’s coffers with gold.

    And yet, it is Ryan who is considered a budget wonk, despite his budget depending on the unicorns.

  21. Pch101 says:

    @CSK:

    But it’s a question of whether they’ll learn from the experience, and it’s clear to me that virtually none of them will.

    For one, they don’t recognize how extremist they are. For another, they don’t seem to understand that optimism is ultimately more durable (which is odd, given that their hero Reagan’s major political selling point to the middle was his upbeat can-do persona.)

    What the establishment still hasn’t figured out is that the stuff that makes them most excited about being Republicans is not what appeals to the base. They drank their own Kool Aid when they convinced themselves that the Jim Crow crowd and Bible beaters became Republicans in order to satisfy a craving for low marginal tax rates and import tariffs.

    I wasn’t joking when I previously mentioned that the establishment idea of “small government” is a government with low tax rates for the affluent, free trade and minimal regulations on business, while the base’s idea of “small government” is a government in DC that doesn’t prevent the state and local governments from oppressing those who aren’t white, Judeo-Christian and heterosexual. The slogans of the various wings of the GOP may be the same, but what they mean to these factions is very different.

  22. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    Totally agree. That was well-put, the explanation of the difference between the base’s definition of small government and the establishment’s.

  23. steve s says:

    I want to believe that, grumpy, but these are people who reject thermometers, FFS.

  24. Moosebreath says:

    @CSK: @Pch101:

    From the article CSK linked to:

    “I think Trump’s rise has been fueled by three things: the rise of a ghastly celebrity culture, an unfocused but intense anger at President Obama, and the low political literacy of a substantial number of American voters. None of these things are within the control of the Republican Party or any other,”

    I am willing to absolve the GOP establishment for the celebrity culture, but not the others. They have stoked their base’s anger at Obama from day one, and they and their media cohorts like Limbaugh have done their best to keep the public ill-informed. As a result, I am with Pch that this is just lame excuses.

  25. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: Talk about your river in Egypt. The article in your link is “Trump just fell out of the sky and did this to us” at one remove. “This angry, ignorant electorate just fell out of the sky and did this to us.” It’s not quite into the, “Obama did this to us with his nine dimensional chess” thing that I read last week, but it’s pure denial.

    Is there a single Republican who has publicly acknowledged any complicity with Murdoch, Limbaugh, et al in creating this angry, ignorant base? Is there a national Republican politician who has not pandered to that base and exploited it?

  26. Mr. Prosser says:

    Although I totally disagree with Paul Ryan’s politics I know the man is not stupid. He’s ambitious and looking down the road to a run for the presidency; but, if he accepts this proposed scenario he will become a double loser in presidential politics since he lost with Romney in 2012. He’ll probably stand around the convention this year appearing humble and providing wise counsel but refuse a draft so he can be the savior in 2020.

  27. MarkedMan says:

    If Trump doesn’t win an outright majority of delegates and the convention is ioen to brokerage, well, it will be fascinating to see what happens. The people who will control the convention aren’t the elected, so we will get a sense of what their real strategy is. In other cases, like the Suprem Court nomination, party strategy doesn’t enter into because the overwhelming fear of individual Senators opening themselves to a primary fight outweighs any larger strategy .

  28. Pch101 says:

    @gVOR08:

    At this point, we have various factions of the GOP accusing each other of not being legit. The level of denial is astounding but not surprising; in that world, “accountability” is a code word for “don’t blame me!”

  29. steve s says:
  30. Jen says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Are the Elite cognizant of the fact that whoever runs is 99% likely going to do a belly flop, or are they still assuming that if they get the Right Guy they’ll win the presidency?

    My hunch is that it’s the Right Guy assumption. They see polls that have Kasich beating Clinton in a head-to-head and think that means they have a chance–maybe an even better chance with Ryan than with Kasich. What they are refusing to factor into that is that when that question is put to voters via polling, it assumes that he’s won the nomination–not handing the nomination to Ryan through contested convention shenanigans. It does not include the many, many Trump and Cruz voters who are going to be furious that their guys were looked over. It also doesn’t seem to factor in a potential Trump 3rd party run, however ineffective that might be due to the numerous “sore loser” laws in states.

    Smoke-filled back rooms gave us some pretty good presidents (Lincoln was one of them IIRC). I’m beginning to wonder if the move away from them was maybe a tad premature.

  31. KM says:

    @Gustopher :

    (he released a two-pager about intercepting money immigrants are shipping home)

    Right, because that’s not Mexico paying for it at all. That’s US paying for it on the DL; after all, the guy here illegally is getting paid by the guy who is. America’s still footing the bill, just directly out of our wallets and not out of our taxes. He’s saying “illegal wages” – not the same thing as wages made by illegal immigrants. Going to have to prove its illegal which means FBI, ICE, IRS and all sorts of delightful government intrusiveness. Can’t freeze legal money made by legal citizens using a legal service accidentally or bye bye regs when the SC is done with it. Yay small government! Plus, what if its not going to Mexico but to Belize or Yemen or Canada? Where does that seized money go or is if just Mexico in the spotlight?

    Using a broad interpretation of the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act, Trump writes in the memo that he would threaten to issue new regulations that would compel money transfer companies like Western Union to verify a client’s identity and legal status before authorizing a wire transfer.

    OMG didn’t everyone just freak out because the government wanted to compel Apple to violate its customers’ privacy because terrorists and now Trump wants to use a terrorism law to compel Western Union and it’s great? Do you really want businesses to start having to card you (passport this time) when you go to the supermarket or gas station once the precedent has been established (after all, everybody needs to eat sometime, right)? Here comes the national ID….

    I expect Western Union to take that to the SC and win big. It’s not their job to keep track of citizenship and it puts them in an awkward legal spot if the government seizes money it shouldn’t. I must admit, it is a clever solution to his “make Mexico pay” bit but realistically it going to be a massive headache and very intrusive legislation for a unrealistic result.

  32. CSK says:

    Well, Roger Stone has just announced that he’ll make public the hotel room number of any delegate at the convention who tries to “steal” the nomination from Trump.

  33. @grumpy realist:

    And it will definitely give a thump on the head to the section of the party whining incessantly about how the Repubs “haven’t run a REAL Conservative yet!”

    Wouldn’t work. Since it is axiomatic that “a real conservative” would win, all that a Cruz’s defeat would prove is that Cruz is not actually “a real conservative”. Their solution would still be to run “a real conservative” in 2020.

  34. gVOR08 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Absolutely. It’s a No True Scotsman thing. Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.

  35. Jen says:

    @CSK: ….that sounds like intimidation and a threat.

    Nice to know we’re dealing with grownups.

  36. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    Well, precisely. Trump has surrounded himself with people exactly like him: seventh-grade bullies.

    It is interesting that they define a thief as anyone who isn’t totally on board with Trump.

    Donald really has brought out the absolute worst in a certain segment of the electorate: the xenophobes, the misogynists, the racists. They decry Obama as a dictator, but they’d be thrilled if Trump were their dictator.

  37. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @KM: Actually, I used to have to take my passport to the bank when I transferred money from Korea to the US. The bank would compare it to my Alien Registration Card and both to the documents that I filled out when I opened my Korean bank account. It was a little inconvenient at first, but if I used the same bank and teller every time, the process got easy to handle.

    I don’t see how Trump is going to prohibit people from sending their wages to their home, but the Patriot Act is pretty flexible and can be turned into whatever the government wants it to be. That’s been the feature of it from the beginning. The assault on our rights is a done deal, but in this case, since the rights being assaulted are those of some brown people and in the name of the WAR ON TERROR (TM), most Trump supporters won’t care.

  38. @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    I don’t see how Trump is going to prohibit people from sending their wages to their home, but the Patriot Act is pretty flexible and can be turned into whatever the government wants it to be.

    Ironically, Trump is basically proposing a variation on the Tobin Tax that progressives having been advocating for; the main difference is what Trump wants to use it to punish the right’s boogeymen instead of the left’s boogeymen.

  39. Moosebreath says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    “Ironically, Trump is basically proposing a variation on the Tobin Tax that progressives having been advocating for; the main difference is what Trump wants to use it to punish the right’s boogeymen instead of the left’s boogeymen.”

    And the somewhat more significant difference that Trump’s proposed tax rate is 100%, instead of the 0.5% Tobin proposed.

  40. @Moosebreath:

    I’m generally in favor of open borders, so I don think Trump’s plan is a good policy; I was just addressing the feasibility question.

  41. Moosebreath says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    “I’m generally in favor of open borders, so I don think Trump’s plan is a good policy; I was just addressing the feasibility question.”

    A 100% tax is feasible? In what universe?

    Besides, I thought libertarians objected to government confiscation of private property a bit.

  42. @Moosebreath:

    And in a comment that actually quotes my objection to a particular policy, I’m accused of supporting it. You beat that strawman, Moosebreath, you beat him good!

  43. Moosebreath says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Only in universes where it’s a strawman to point out that you feel the “main difference” between Tobin’s proposal and Trump’s was whose ox is being gored, and not the difference between 0.5% tax rate and 100%. In this one, not so much.

  44. @Moosebreath:

    It wouldn’t have to be 100%. There’s $25 billion of remittances from the US to Mexico every year. Even a small tax would generate a large revenue stream to pay for Trump’s border boondoggles.

  45. Moosebreath says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Even if that were the case, that’s not Trump’s proposal.

    Moreover, a 0.5% tax on $25 billion is $125 million per year. It takes a large number of years, or a much bigger tax rate, to get to the multiple billions Trump wants, much less the hundreds of billions the fence would cost.