Thanks to all the brouhaha about last week’s Republican debate – if you haven’t tuned in, the cwybaby candidates think the qwestions were vewy vewy mean – it was easy to overlook the news of Paul Ryan’s ascendancy to the Speakership.
But he quickly got in our faces yesterday by performing the pentathlon (five Sunday shows), and demonstrating, by dint of some key remarks, just how dicey and delicate his dance is likely to be. No wonder he didn’t want the job.
On the one hand, Ryan is determined to prove that House Republicans can actually govern in a sane, responsible manner (“We have been bold on tactics but not on policy, not on an agenda. We have to show people what our alternatives are”). On the other hand, like John Boehner, he’ll be plagued by the rabid rightists who think that sane, responsible, compromise- driven governing is some kind of liberal trick.
I’m referring, of course, to the Freedom Caucus conservatives, who are waiting to see whether Ryan confirms their worst suspicions by morphing into a deal-cutting RINO. But even more so, I’m referring to the cacophonous conservative echo chamber, which is primed to gut Ryan if he so much as shares the same room air with Barack Obama.
Even the right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page is worried about Ryan’s prospects: “One problem is that the conservative movement has created a new establishment movement of permanent opposition. This includes groups like Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives’ Fund whose fundraising depends on feeding perpetual grassroots outrage.” For the marketers of outrage, “partial policy victories are never enough. This will also make it harder for a consistent conservative like Mr. Ryan to keep a majority of 218 Republicans.” (Indeed, radio shock jockette Laura Ingraham is already dissing Ryan as “Boehner 2.0.”)
So it was no surprise that Ryan sought yesterday to dance the the tightrope – with a nod to the rabid rightists here, and a nod to governing reality there. Two examples said it all.
He pleased The Base by announcing that path-to-citizenship immigration reform is off the table until at least 2017, period. Ryan said: “Look, I think it would be a ridiculous notion to try and work on an issue like this with a president we simply cannot trust on this issue. He tried to go it alone, circumventing the legislative process with his executive orders, so that is not in the cards.”
This is the same guy who used to support immigration reform, but now he needs to flash some nativist bona fides. So right away we’re getting the standard right-wing claim that Obama poisoned the well by issuing executive orders. Whereas, in reality, Obama issued executive orders – to at least do something – because Republicans in Congress have spent the last nine years poisoning the well by blocking immigration reform.
Ryan is supposedly smart – the Washington press corps thinks he’s smart because he likes to talk policy – so presumably he recognizes that his preemptive hostility to immigration reform collides with his vow to build an affirmative, base-expanding party. Allow me to state the obvious: If Ryan’s Republicans continue to nix immigration reform, they’ll give the burgeoning Hispanic electorate its umpteenth reason to savage the GOP in the ’16 presidential race. Goodbye four or five key states – and goodbye election. (The rightists think there’s nobility in losing.)
Anyway, Ryan dutifully danced to their tune on immigration, and he presumably earned some good will – at least for a brief moment. Until Ryan, during the same Sunday roundelay, squashed one of their coveted hot-button issues by tethering himself to the real world. I can’t imagine the rightists were too pleased about that.
This was a biggie: Even though Ryan thinks the Planned Parenthood videos are “disgusting” (standard conservative line), he said there’s no point trying to strip PP of its federal stipend. Because the reality is, it ain’t gonna happen.
When asked if he would crusade for defunding, he said: “I think being an effective opposition party means being honest with people upfront about what it is we can and cannot achieve.” Yes, he said, “we have to push issues where we can push issues,” but the fact is, “we have a president that isn’t willing to listen (to us), that isn’t going to sign lots of our bills into law, we have a Senate that has a very difficult process when it comes to actually getting bills voted on, so knowing that we have those constraints, we have to operate within those constraints.”
Oh man. The new Speaker is telling his brethren that he intends to operate within the “constraints” of reality. The next thing you know, he might refuse to approve a ninth or tenth Benghazi committee.
No wonder he conjured some black humor yesterday when he was asked how long his House honeymoon is likely to last. He said, “About 35 minutes.” You gotta love an optimist.