Some Democrats say they see evidence that Ryan is intent on tacking rightward rather than on working the political middle.
“The fact that he comes off the campaign trail more committed to his way or no way does not put him in a position to reach compromise either within the Republican caucus or, even more importantly, with the Democrats,” said Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Pa.), who has worked with Ryan on the House Budget and Ways and Means committees. “It seems that so far, what he’s been doing has been reaching out to the right.”
They point to his decision to back Price over Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in last week’s race for House Republican conference chair, the No. 4 spot in party leadership.
Price was regarded as the more conservative choice. Even inside the party there are questions about the political wisdom of Ryan’s decision to back Price over McMorris Rodgers. One longtime Republican operative mused that Ryan didn’t need help shoring up conservative support and that the move was “a huge mistake because it sent a broader message that maybe he didn’t understand the result of the election.”
“He just came out of a presidential election where they were pummeled on the fact that they were losing among women,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the party’s internal politics. “For him to make that move sends a counter-intuitive message that maybe he didn’t understand, maybe he didn’t get it. It was like [Mitt] Romney talking about the ‘gifts’ Obama gave to minorities — that fell under that umbrella, I thought.”
Had McMorris Rodgers lost, Ryan “would’ve taken a majority of the blame for the fact that we’re starting out now with an all white male Republican leadership and making sure that a qualified Republican woman was not in the mix,” the operative said. “He still can have an influence on the conference because people trust him on fiscal issues. But on the political issue of last week, there are a number of Republican operatives who think, ‘What was that about?’ ”
John Feehery, a GOP strategist and former top House Republican aide, said the looming expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, Obama’s victory Nov. 6 and the fact that “the polls have showed that we lost” on the question of whether the rich are overtaxed in some ways reduces Ryan’s political peril.
“He’s not going to be fighting for tax increases; he’s going to be fighting to save some tax cuts,” Feehery said. “It’s really a different story because everybody realizes the tax rates are going to be increasing. . . . President Obama has the veto pen. So for the Republicans, they’ve got to fight for as much entitlement reform as humanly possible.
“They are fighting from a position of weakness, which in many ways is an advantage for people like Paul Ryan, because they have to fight for the best they can get,” he said.