Speaker Watch

The question of the day is, “Is he dumb enough to do it?” — he being Paul Ryan and it being running for Speaker of the House. Ryan allegedly is considering his options today.

As Paul Krugman points out in a column and blog post today, Ryan’s strength is that he’s the guy non-Republicans take seriously. But he needs to avoid the Speaker position to maintain that impression.

If Paul Ryan has any sense of self-preservation — and that is one thing he surely has — he will look for any way possible to avoid becoming Speaker. The hard right is already attacking him, essentially accusing him of not being sufficiently crazy, and they’re right. On policy substance he’s totally an Ayn Rand-loving, reward-the-rich and punish-the-poor guy, but so are lots of other Republicans; what they want is someone willing to go along with kamikaze tactics, and he isn’t. His fall from grace would be swift.

But if Ryan isn’t distinctive in his political positions, why does he loom so large within his party? The answer is that he’s more or less unique among extreme right-wingers in having the approbation of centrists, especially centrist pundits. That is, he’s a big man within the GOP because people outside seem to approve of him. And it’s important to ask why.

And the reason is …

Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues, at creating the false impression that his plans have been vetted by budget experts. This has been enough to convince political writers who don’t know much about policy, but do know what they want to see, that he’s the real deal. (A number of reporters are deeply impressed by the fact that he uses PowerPoint.) He is to fiscal policy what Carly Fiorina was to corporate management: brilliant at self-promotion, hopeless at actually doing the job. But his act has been good enough for media work.

His position within the party, in turn, rests mainly on this outside perception. Mr. Ryan is certainly a hard-line, Ayn Rand-loving and progressive-tax-hating conservative, but no more so than many of his colleagues. If you look at what the people who see him as a savior are saying, they aren’t talking about his following within the party, which isn’t especially passionate. They’re talking, instead, about his perceived outside credibility, his status as someone who can stand up to smarty-pants liberals — someone who won’t, says MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, be intimidated by “negative articles in The New York Times opinions page.” (Who knew we had such power?)

It helps that much of the punditocracy suffers from a pathological need to see Democrats and Republicans as equally crazy; this is what passes for “balance” these days.

Ryan is being maligned wholesale on the Crazy Fringe today, not because he’s a con but because he allegedly is soft on immigration. As near as I can tell, his actual voting record makes him an immigration hard-liner. He’s even called for building the damnfool fence and sending little Nicaraguan refugee children back to Central America. But the Whackjobs apparently need to hate him for something, and that’s what they’ve come up with.

The political establishment largely is ignoring this development and promoting Ryan as the man who can bring together the allegedly “centrist” faction of the Republican Party and the teabagger fringe. As Andrew Rosenthal writes, this is basically a “plea for attention from the increasingly irrelevant conservative establishment. ” Those who still take the Republican Party seriously are talking about needing unity in “moving public policy in a conservative direction.”

But, as Rosenthal says, “The Republicans moved way past conservatism long ago.” And going back to Krugman,

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality.

The Freedom Caucus wants Daniel Webster of Florida, the guy who beat Alan Grayson in 2010 and who has rarely met an excuse for a government shutdown he didn’t like. I’m betting that Ryan will stay on the sidelines and that Webster will end up with the Speaker’s job eventually, once the establishment has bullshitted itself into thinking maybe he’s not that bad. But anything could happen.

8 thoughts on “Speaker Watch

  1. I hope he takes the job for the likelihood that it will weaken his chance for a senate challenge to Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. And there’s a good chance that it will destroy his political career in Washington.

  2. Poor, poor, “Privatizing” Ryan.

    This epitome of ‘Blue-eyed (lack of) Soul,’ is stuck between the Devil and the deep red sea of Tea.

    It couldn’t happen to a more malignant sociopath!

    Keep plenty of popcorn handy to enjoy while the GOP tries to determine their new Poop – oops, make that Pope.
    And plenty of whiskey, if one of their Tea troglodytes gets named Spooker… oops again, make that Speaker.

  3. Oh, brother! The shit just doesn’t end.

    Florida Congressman David Jolly, an unabashed supporter of Rep. Daniel Webster for Speaker of the House, admitted on Newsmax TV on Monday that only Paul Ryan could get unanimous support to replace John Boehner.

    “Paul Ryan is an incredible leader in our party,” Jolly said on Newsmax Now. “he’s an intellectual giant. He can carry the message on behalf of Republicans. Paul Ryan is one candidate who possibly could get to a unanimous vote in the speaker’s race. I don’t believe anybody else in Congress can do that today.”

  4. This one goes out to the Freedom Caucus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ7aJbQvzcA
    Ali Baba had 40 thieves and the GOP has 40 die hard knucklehead teabaggers. Coincidence? I think not. Actually this same act gets played out across America every day. Some women is killed because her “Man” decides that if he can’t have her nobody will.

  5. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    As I watch the drama, I’m struck by the dynamics. If the GOP of the House, who are not of the Freedom Caucus, accept the demands of the fewer-than-forty radicals, it will end any chance of the White House this election, threaten GOP control of the Senate, and seriously undermine the House majority crafted by gerrymandering.

    I do not exaggerate my opinion that the republican party could become as extinct as the Whigs in 2017, with a prolonged shutdown and blackmail. Conservatism would survive in several conflicting factions, one of which would emerge eventually as the dominant party among conservatives… after a few election cycles.

    I must admit the mathematical possibility of a few dozen democrats banding with the ‘not-Freedom-Caucus’ republicans to save the power of the GOP majority, but I can’t conceive any reason to save the GOP from self-destruction. It could happen, but I can’t see why it should – the democrats have no reason to step in and help.

    ‘Whatever remains’ as a possibility is a defection of a minority of republicans, possibly led by Boehner, to the democrats to elect a democrat as Speaker of the House, to rob the Freedom Caucus of their power. The GOP would lose face and power, but the GOP would survive.

    The Freedom Caucus could back down, but I don’t think they will. They anticipate that they are as strong as they will get electorally and this is their best chance for a coup.

    If this can play out differently than I’ve predicted, do tell me how.

  6. Please, everyone, let’s not use the term ‘conservative’ to refer to authoritarian nihilists. They are not interested in conserving anything; not blood, treasure, honor, freedom nor law.

    Given any policy choice, they automatically choose the option that breaks more things and kills more people.

    To call them ‘conservative’ is Orwellian. I suggest ‘pseudo-conservative’, ‘CINO’, or ‘authoritarian nihilists’.

  7. “he’s an intellectual giant”

    I thought the GOP fundies shunned intellectualism years ago? Big duck small pond!

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