The Washington media are anointing Rep. Paul Ryan as the one man who can unite the Republican caucus, drawing in conservatives and establishment types alike.
But before they crown the Wisconsin lawmaker, one of those Beltway denizens needs to talk to a real, live conservative.
Ryan, who has spent nearly his entire professional career in Washington drawing a federal paycheck, doesn’t come close to fitting the prototype of what conservatives want. Rather, he is better associated with the two dethroned GOP establishment figures with whom he wrote the 2010 book “Young Guns” — former presumptive Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who lost a primary challenge to conservative David Brat in 2014.
Being immersed in the establishment for so long, messiness like fights over principles that cause government shutdowns are instinctively frowned upon by Ryan, who in a separate 2014 book called the 2013 shutdown a “suicide mission.”
Ryan wrote: “In short, the strategy our colleagues had been promoting was flawed from beginning to end. It was a suicide mission. But a lot of members were afraid of what would happen if they didn’t jump off the cliff … The shutdown wasn’t a disagreement over principles, or even politics. Rather, it is proof of what happens to a party when it’s defined primarily by what it opposes, instead of by its ideas.”
In a 2014 interview, Ryan said Republicans were easy to blame for the fallout.
Why, then, would a Speaker Ryan handle conservatives who want to do battle with President Barack Obama any differently than current Speaker John Boehner did?
Ryan helped the GOP leadership team that in January 2014 put together “principles” for “comprehensive” immigration legislation. He has expressed support for legalizing “Dreamers” whose parent brought them to the United States illegally. His website indicates he backs a pathway to citizenship for all illegal aliens. That would effectively give them legal status during a “legal probation” period that occurs before getting the chance to become full citizens.
“A conservative deals with the world as it is — not how it should be,” he lectures on his website.
Ryan also voted for — and went out of his way to promote — the Obama-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership. The agreement is anathema to many conservatives concerned about ceding U.S. sovereignty to a regional trade deal, and about the pact’s effect on U.S. workers.
He just doesn’t rate well. Literally. The conservative HeritageAction organization gives him only a 57 percent rating for the current session of Congress, compared to an average for House Republicans of 68 percent.
Putting an exclamation point on the problem, left-wing Democratic firebrand Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois threw his backing behind Ryan.
“He would be good for the country,” Gutierrez said. “He would be good for the Republican Party. Paul Ryan is the kind of individual that would work with people on the other side of the aisle and that’s what we need.'”
Trade, immigration, battles over principle that call attention to Obama-backed outrages — Ryan is wrong on all of these. So why is he right for conservatives?
And is someone who lost a debate to an inanely laughing Vice President Joe Biden really perfect to be the “Speaker” for Republicans?
Even the sometimes tongue-tied McCarthy might have been able to win that one.