The most important thing to understand about what’s happening now is that this is a permanent rebellion. It has its demands, both substantive and procedural, but those demands aren’t the point, and if they were met, new ones would be forthcoming. For the people behind the chaos, rebellion itself is the point. It’s about the fight, not about the outcome of that fight. They will never stop rebelling.
That’s why it doesn’t really matter much who actually ends up in the Speaker’s chair. Whoever that Speaker is, he’ll be judged inadequate, not enough of a fighter, too willing to roll over. After all, no matter who he is or what he does (and yes, I’m assuming it will be a man, because there aren’t any viable female candidates at this point), he won’t successfully repeal Obamacare, or send all the illegals away, or slash taxes rates, or outlaw abortion, or pound his gavel until the thunderous vibrations reach down Pennsylvania Avenue and drive that usurper Barack Obama out of the White House and back to Chicago. In the eyes of the rebels, the next Speaker will fail, just like his predecessor did. And the rebellion will have to continue.
Speculation today centers around Paul Ryan, who commands a good deal of respect within the caucus. Though Ryan has said repeatedly that he isn’t interested in being Speaker — he’s now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful position he sought for some time — he is coming under intense pressure from colleagues to accept the post. Here’s how Paul Kane and Robert Costa described the state of affairs this morning:
By mid-afternoon, outgoing speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had spoken to Ryan at least twice, trying to convince the reluctant congressman that he was the only man who could save House Republicans from their self-created chaos.By day’s end, after hunkering down for two hours in his ceremonial office a few steps from the House floor, after listening to pleas from friends to take the reins of the bitterly divided Republican caucus, he emerged, declining to explicitly state his plans…As they voted on the House floor late Thursday, Ryan was besieged by his GOP colleagues. As the lawmakers huddled, Ryan aides canceled his fundraising and political events for the next 48 hours, a move interpreted by his friends as a signal that he had gone from a hard “no” to undecided after speaking with Boehner.
The latest statement from Ryan’s office reiterates: “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for Speaker.” Of course, this could still change.
The assumption among many is that Ryan could be a unifying figure, the only one who could bring together the fractious caucus. But not only is there no particular reason to think that’s true, his potential candidacy for Speaker is already dividing the party.
Ryan is being promoted by establishment sources like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review, which in itself is being read by the rebels as a reason to reject him. Influential radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Are they talking abt the same Paul Ryan who once lost a VP debate to JOE BIDEN?” She added, “Chaos? Only if you are bought and paid for by the Establishment. Cathartic for most.” “Paul Ryan Is The Absolute Worst Choice For Speaker,” says Brietbart.com, explaining that he’s really a weakling who’ll knuckle under just like John Boehner did.
The House Freedom Caucus, which has become the center of the rebellion, has a document outlining its current demands in the form of a questionnaire for any potential Speaker, which includes things like not raising the debt ceiling without “significant structural entitlement reforms” (i.e. cutting and restructuring Medicare and Social Security); shutting down the government unless they can defund Planned Parenthood, repeal Obamacare, invalidate the Iran deal, and more; and perhaps most importantly, a series of process “reforms” that would take power away from the Speaker to determine how legislation proceeds and distribute it around to all the members of the caucus. They seem to want to ensure not only that the next Speaker is someone disinclined to make compromises with the Senate or the White House, but that he won’t be able to even if he wanted to.
They’re not going to get all that from the next Speaker, which they surely know. But deep down that’s probably okay with them, because in a way, not getting what they want is exactly what they want. They didn’t come to Washington to write legislation and craft policy. They came to fight — to fight Barack Obama, and just as important (if not more so), to fight their own party’s leadership. Many of them won their seats in the first place by either challenging incumbent Republicans who were deemed insufficiently conservative and confrontational, or besting a field of primary contenders by proving they would fight the establishment with more vigor and venom than anyone else. Every defeat only makes them more sure that the answer is to fight harder. This is their purpose. Fighting is energizing, exciting, and inspiring, much more than sitting in some boring subcommittee hearing.
There’s a reason old rebels keep talking about “the revolution” years and decades after they came out of the jungle and stormed the capital. Nothing about the work of governing can match the righteous thrill of the battle against the oppressors. The innovation the tea partiers brought to Washington was that you could get power, but then not bother to figure out how to use it to achieve the policy goals you claim to hold. Instead, you could just keep fighting, so the rebellion never ends. It’s obvious now that’s precisely what they intend to do, no matter who the next Speaker of the House is.