Non-presidential candidate Paul Ryan would like you to count him out of the race for the Republican nomination for president and dismiss all fantasies that he will unite his splintered party after being drafted as the nominee during a contested convention. He said that on Tuesday afternoon in a quaint and brief press conference at the Republican National Headquarters, and he’s been spreading a similar message for quite some time. Is the Speaker of the House, who was incidentally drafted into that position after saying that he didn’t want it, being clear enough? Ryan has made strong statements about the distressing direction of this campaign and released a video about the politics of the moment on his YouTube page that could easily be mistaken for a campaign ad.
These aren’t the actions of a mere bystander, but he’s not that either. The fact is, Ryan is a party leader and a grown up who has, at times, felt the need to throw cold water on a primary that has often resembled a garbage fire. It’s part of his appeal, but he doesn’t appeal to everyone. And Ryan knows this, which is why he keeps pushing the wishers and the dreamers away. And why he is now advocating that the convention rules committee make it impossible for him to be drafted by making it a requirement that a candidate for the nomination be someone who has actually run as a candidate in this election.
Really, this is as strong as Ryan can humanly be in his rejection of the notion that he has an interest in benefiting from GOP infighting and a convention (of which he is the chairman) that may possibly descend into a circus-like-state if Donald Trump doesn’t get what he feels like he is owed after standing out as the frontrunner for the bulk of this primary and winning the popular vote. But it’s not public relations that drives him away from this theoretical opportunity, its political acumen and intelligence.
Paul Ryan has to have more faith in the GOP’s ability to hold the House of Representatives than he does in the GOP’s ability to mend its tears and present a unified front again Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders). He has to know that with that more certain victory comes a continued presence as the Republican Party’s leader and the de facto frontrunner for the 2016 election. That has to be why he is so against a shot at the White House this time around. And if that’s the case, then he’s right on. But it’s still a risky view.
As Trump continues to rail about the GOP’s nominating rules, calling the system “rigged,” while (rightly or wrongly) positioning himself as an outsider that is being targeted by the party establishment, one imagines that the prospect of him running a third-party candidacy will grow should he not get the Republican nomination. Does Trump seem like the kind of man who will pick up his ball and go home after starting a revolution? If he does that, a Ted Cruz (or whomever) candidacy will struggle mightily to hold its support on the right. And that would be the case if Ryan ran as well, ultimately putting him at risk of a loss in 2016 and a less alluring profile as a future candidate.
Here’s the thing, though: If the end result of the 2016 election is anything other than a Trump win, then there is going to be a great big cloud of conservative anger floating above this country, and it’s likely to grow during a Clinton (or Sanders) presidency. A cloud of conservative anger that is going to be bolstered by the notion that “they was robbed!” A notion that will probably be fed by, what one assumes, will be the continuation of Trump’s loud odyssey to be the most powerful man in the world. No matter what, the odds say that this election will gift us all with the continued presence of Trump in the political spectrum in some way. And honestly, no matter how that feels in your gut, he’s earned it with the share of voters he’s hooked.
Once again, this is a movement and it’s one that has been growing in this country since the 2010 election with the birth of the tea party. Trump’s particular flock seems like a splinter of that, but the belief that they are being pushed by the media, the establishment, minorities, terrorists, liberals who want to take their guns, rights, religion, sepia-toned idea of America is a shared foundation buoyed by fear and anger. They aren’t going away and their ideals aren’t in lockstep with Ryan, even if those differences feel minimal when looking down at Republicans from on high. That incompatibility seems as though it is the likely reason why he isn’t willing to get into the fray this time around, but it’s a punt into an uncertain future with an uncertain Republican Party whose guiding principles are up in the air. Maybe it’ll work out for Ryan and reveal itself to be a shrewd move in hindsight, or maybe he’s going to be another seemingly electable moderate Republican (by contrast) that gets lost in the storm that follows that big cloud. Just like Marco Rubio and John Kasich.