It appears that there is no viable candidate that could possibly satisfy the 42-member far-right Freedom Caucus or the Tea Party, and still garner the 218 votes needed for election without requiring the help of Democrat votes. The Freedom Caucus, who backed conservative Floridian Daniel Webster, essentially pushed McCarthy to drop out of consideration. There is one ‘non-candidate,’ however, who looks poised to deliver the GOP from its internal division, having the consensus support of nearly the entire Republican Party: former vice-presidential nominee and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Perhaps nothing in recent history has more clearly illustrated the internal divide within the GOP than the impending retirement of House Speaker John Boehner. While the Ohio Republican has gone rounds with hard-line conservatives in the House, President Obama, Senate Majority Leader and fellow Republican Mitch McConnell, orange makeup, tear ducts, and (allegedly) a whisky sour or two, the succession crisis has clearly shown what a precarious balance the Speaker has maintained during his five years in the role. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California was seen to be the clear favorite when Boehner made the stunning announcement two weeks ago, although there were rumblings back then that McCarthy did not have the conservative pedigree, or the social skills to go toe-to-toe with Obama. Even though Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) likened Boehner to a gift from God, notable House hecklers Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tea Party Caucus Chairman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) were pleased with the potential change in direction, with the latter saying about Obama, “He’s run circles around us since John Boehner was speaker of the House,” adding that Boehner’s resignation is “a victory for the American people.” While Boehner said during his resignation speech that he was leaving October 30th, he announced Thursday that he would remain as Speaker until a replacement was elected.
Two weeks later, with McCarthy bowing out of the race on Thursday, it appears that there is no viable candidate that could possibly satisfy the 42-member far-right Freedom Caucus or the Tea Party, and still garner the 218 votes needed for election without requiring the help of Democrat votes. The Freedom Caucus, who backed conservative Floridian Daniel Webster, essentially pushed McCarthy to drop out of consideration. There is one ‘non-candidate,’ however, who looks poised to deliver the GOP from its internal division, having the consensus support of nearly the entire Republican Party: former vice-presidential nominee and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). As soon as Boehner made his announcement, Ryan said that he was not seeking the Speakership, claiming that he is serving the American public best in his powerful role as the chair of his committee. After receiving calls from nearly every wing of the party, including from former 2012 running mate Mitt Romney, encouraging him to take the position, Ryan told Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT) and others that he was going home to Wisconsin and “thinking and praying on it.”
Although Ryan spokesperson Brendon Buck read a statement late Friday saying, “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for speaker,” Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said, that this was a case “where the job is seeking the man, and we need him.” Much of Ryan’s reluctance has to do with the fact that he has three school-aged children living in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, about 75 miles south of Milwaukee. Ryan has indicated that he does not want to make a permanent move to Washington, but the ubiquitous calls from within the party may ultimately be too much pressure to resist. Cole noted that “He clearly does not want the job,” but Romney said about his friend, “I wouldn’t presume to tell Paul what to do, but I do know that he is a man of ideas who is driven to see them applied for the public good. Every politician tries to convince people that they are that kind of leader; almost none are — Paul is.” Michigan Representative Fred Upton, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said “There’s really only one choice: Paul Ryan is the guy to bring us together.” Upton added, “He needs to do this for the team.” Former House Majority Leader and current Tea Party advocate Richard Armey said about Ryan’s dilemma, “It’s a terrible responsibility when you’ve got a young family, but someone should say to Paul Ryan, the institution of the House needs your leadership. Sometimes the burden of leadership falls on you when you’re not seeking it.”
Although the Freedom Caucus has still officially backed the little-known Webster, many members have spoken highly of Ryan. One member, Georgia’s Barry Lowdermilk said about Ryan, “I want to see a change in the culture of Washington, D.C. before we move ahead with a speaker vote, let’s address the process, let’s address the rules,” adding, “It’s the what, not the who.” The “what” to some is the issue of immigration, in which Ryan worked with Democrats on failed legislation that left open a possibility for a pathway to citizenship, a move verboten among arch conservatives. The Freedom Caucus has made very clear that they demand more influence among common House members and less reliance on leadership roles like the Speaker, and committee chairs. In essence, the group is demanding the House to take a turn to the right, which will likely lead to an even more fractious lower chamber. Although Utah’s Jason Chaffetz, the firebrand chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced his candidacy for the position in the absence of Ryan, he is a relative newcomer, and frankly by objective standards, is not very bright. Chaffetz has already called Ryan the best candidate for the job and that “The reason I got into the race was people like Paul Ryan were not stepping up to do it.” It is doubtful that either Webster or Chaffetz would gain enough Republican votes to win the position. If Ryan ultimately declines the GOP’s Bat-Signal, it will likely mean that either Boehner will need to cancel his vacation plans, or the Freedom Caucus’s worst nightmare may come true; they will have to acquiesce to the wishes of the more moderate Republican majority, or God forbid, Democrats.
CNN – Dana Bash, Manu Raju, Deirdre Walsh, Tom LoBianco, Dan Berman and Eugene Scott
New York Times – David M. Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse
Washington Post – Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane