As Paul Ryan opts out of reelection bid, we revisit his career in photos

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House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin speaks in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

To hear some conservative media outlets, lawmakers and activist types tell it these days, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is not one of them.

"Ryan is a nice man, but he does not reflect the conservative base of the modern GOP," Jenny Beth Martin, the chief executive of Tea Party Patriots, wrote in a Politico Magazine piece published Monday. It was titled "Paul Ryan Would Just Be More of the Same." 

Conservative blogger Matt Drudge, meanwhile, seems to think Ryan, who said Tuesday night he'll run for speaker if conservatives agree to support him, isn't willing to listen to the party's base.

A few years ago, though, the narrative about Ryan was far different.

As the Washington Examiner's Becket Adams pointed out, conservatives like Drudge and right-wing talk radio once loved Ryan.  

In fact, in 2012 Ryan was perhaps the face of the party's conservative wing. To wit:

  • When 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney picked Ryan to be his vice presidential pick, the choice was largely seen as a risky one aimed at getting the conservative Republican base on-board with the former moderate Massachusetts governor's campaign. The Fix's headline was, "Mitt Romney goes bold (and risky) with Paul Ryan vice presidential pick," and that wasn't exactly counter-conventional wisdom.
  • Shortly before that, Ryan was known for putting out a conservative budget that proposed making Medicare a voucher program, instituting steep cuts in federal spending and lowering tax rates for everyone, including the wealthy. Democrats were so incensed by the Ryan budget that they used it in political ads against Republicans.
  • He's a devout Catholic and vocal anti-abortion advocate. Ryan has said his religion helps frame his belief that government should be smaller and that charities and communities should step in to fill the void. (As the Wall Street Journal noted in 2012, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized Ryan's budget for its proposed cuts to the poor.) 

Despite all this, Ryan is now considered suspect by the tea party — something that probably has less to do with policy than with politics.

Yes, Ryan has alienated some conservatives by supporting comprehensive immigration reform, for example, but he's otherwise known as a conservative's conservative. And now the GOP base and the 30-40 members of the so-called Freedom Caucus have made loud and clear that they're wary of whoever the party establishment backs, no matter how conservative that person is or might have been.

Case in point: Donald Trump.

Trump, a former Democrat, is not nearly as conservative as Ryan. He supports raising taxes on the wealthy; Ryan wants to cut them. He has supported single-payer, universal health care; Ryan wants to repeal the Obamacare mandate requiring everyone to get health insurance. Trump has been all over the map on issues like abortion; Ryan's record is clear.

And yet Trump is the man more and more conservative voters are choosing to be their leader, in large part because he's sticking it to GOP leaders who, it's no secret, would rather he didn't exist.

Ryan's conservative bona fides used to be his calling card. But as soon as the GOP establishment started urging him to run for speaker, he instantly became suspect to the party's most antagonistic elements. Implicit in that party support is that conservatives are suspicious of you and your motives. That's enough to make Ryan go from conservatives' champion to someone they're not sure they can trust.

As far back as 2011, conservatives have made their distrust of the GOP establishment known by disapproving of their leaders in Congress. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, less than half of Republicans (47 percent) said they approve of the way Republicans are handling their jobs in Congress. That's compared to 65 percent of Democrats who are happy with their congressional leaders.

Add that to this finding from the polls from The Post's Dan Balz and Scott Clement:

"A majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (57 percent) say they want the person who succeeds President Obama to be someone from outside the political establishment, rather than a candidate with experience working inside the system."

Simply put, neither the establishment nor the people it backs are welcome among Republican voters.

"Anyone who believes Ryan is the right man for speaker simply has no idea why we in the tea party movement feel like the Republican Party has betrayed us," Martin continued in her Politico Magazine piece

Even though Trump and Ryan seem like they're both running to be the faces of the Republican Party, it's who's urging them to do it (or not to do it) that makes much of the difference.