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.
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.