As we suggested back on Oct. 9, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had the ability to set his own terms for the job of House speaker. Last night he did, offering House Republicans the chance to not only avoid disaster but also become a much-improved legislative and political body.
Ryan gave the separate House caucuses (including the notorious Freedom Caucus) until Friday to get on board. He does not need or want this job, and if he does not take it, John Boehner can always stay on, as some urge. By getting behind him now and effectively waiving future challenges to his speakership, the unruly backbenchers would allow Ryan latitude to lead on policy. While reports suggested he recognized immigration reform won’t go forward (No. 6 on our Oct. 9 list), he is promising to be proactive in generating policy. He’ll not give up family time, he said, but neither did he want to explain to his children why he did not step up to the plate. As a tested combatant against the White House, who detailed the president’s intransigence in his book, he also told Republicans they had become the problem and needed to move from opposition to the “proposition” party.
In a high-minded statement, he declared:
People don’t care about blame. They don’t care about effort. They care about results. Results that are meaningful. Results that are measurable. Results that make a difference in their daily lives.
I want to be clear about this. I still think we are an exceptional country with exceptional people and a republic clearly worth fighting for. It’s not too late to save the American idea, but we are running out of time.
Make no mistake: I believe that the ideas and principles of results-driven, common-sense conservatism are the keys to a better tomorrow—a tomorrow in which all of God’s children will be better off than they are today.
The idea that the role of the federal government is not to facilitate dependency, but to create an environment of opportunity . . . for everyone.
The idea that the government should do less. . . . And do it better.
The idea that those who serve should say what they mean and mean what they say.
The principle that we should determine the course of our own lives . . . instead of ceding that right to those who think they are better than the rest of us.
Yes, we will stand and fight when we must. And this presidency will surely require that.
A commitment to our natural rights. A commitment to common sense . . . to compassion . . . to co-operation—when rooted in genuine conviction and principle—is a commitment to conservatism. . . .
Let me close by saying: I consider whether to do this with reluctance. And I mean that in the most personal of ways.
Like many of you, Janna and I have children who are in the formative, foundational years of their lives.
I genuinely worry about the consequences that my agreeing to serve will have on them.
Will they experience the viciousness and incivility that we all face on a daily basis?
But my greatest worry is the consequence of not stepping up. Of someday having my own kids ask me, when the stakes were so high, ‘Why didn’t you do all you could? Why didn’t you stand and fight for my future when you had the chance?’
Who could be distressed by this?
The far right, and especially Beltway moneymaking groups, talk radio jocks and right-wing cranky bloggers who thrive on chaos, who raise money complaining they’ve been betrayed and who become irrelevant as soon as grown-up, productive work goes forward, will have their noses out of joint. Heritage Action will have to find other ways to get money out of conservatives.
Also aggrieved will be Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who gained influence by siding with and riling up the Freedom Caucus. If the caucus is essentially neutered, he is as well. Soon voters might even ask what productive things he has accomplished in the Senate.
The Democrats will also be glum. They have their own problems — geriatric presidential candidates, a dearth of policy ideas, fewer elected officials than any time since 1928. The only consolation was that Republicans were a laughingstock. When that changes, the Democrats, too, might have to come up with reasonable policy compromises.
As that was all going on Tuesday night, it was interesting that Vice President Joe Biden in a speech at a dinner honoring former vice president Walter Mondale took issue with the notion that Republicans are their “enemies,” an obvious dig at Hillary Clinton, who listed them among the enemies whom she was most proud to have made. Biden cautioned that “the other team is not the enemy. If you treat it as the enemy there is no way you can ever … fix the dysfunction.” For a moment, one could almost imagine — despite all the polarization and the incivility — that putting the right people in the right places could loosen the gridlock. Visions of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill? Could even a divided government work with better, more-skilled pols?
The voters will determine whether that is possible. They can in 2016 put dealmakers (from either party) in the White House, Senate and House. They can decide to discard the embittered, secretive Clintons and the unhinged haters and know-nothings on the GOP side. They can pick candidates who offer the prospect of an election about solutions to real problems, and then see whether the winners can do some horse-trading to accomplish something.
I know, we should be so lucky. We will no doubt do worse than that, and it is not even clear that Ryan will take the speakership. But for a little while Tuesday night, it was nice to imagine such a thing was at least possible.