Consider what Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a member of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, said about Boehner after the speaker announced his sudden resignation in September: “When you go into a negotiation and say, ‘Look, the one thing we’re never going to do it shut the government down,’ you have completely given up your constitutional ability to use the power of the purse, and I think that is an abdication of responsibility.”
But Ryan laid down those exact same rules in negotiating this year-end spending bill: A shutdown was not going to happen. And yet, as he announced the deal he struck with Democrats, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Boehner critic, had this to say to The Washington Post's Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis: “The central players in this deserve a lot of credit for working this thing as hard as they did. What’s really good in there is really the atmosphere. It’s changed so much in a couple months."
This break in line-drawing between past and present House leaders is, it would seem, partly a testament to Ryan's leadership style and partly a factor of his newness on the job. But the fact that he's getting this break at all is quite possibly the best news for Ryan in his short leadership tenure so far. It gives him a chance to start his first full year as speaker without big baggage from the last one.
Remember that Boehner is so disliked among conservatives that he was essentially forced out of his job. (And now that he's gone, at least two conservatives are proposing one last indignity by introducing a bill that would prevent Boehner from setting up an official office in the Capitol that has been allowed to every former speaker since the '70s.)
Ryan was fully aware of that animosity and yet fully aware that to tie up this spending bill, he'd have to make the kind of very similar concessions to Democrats that conservatives hated so much about Boehner's leadership.
So Ryan buffered himself by drawing contrasts where he could.
He opened up elections to an influential committee to the whole House, paving the way for an outspoken member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus to join the group -- a member that the same committee under Boehner's leadership had publicly punished just three years earlier.
Ryan also promised conservatives three days to review any major piece of legislation. (The House will have to pass their second stop-gap spending measure in as many weeks Wednesday to keep that promise and allow a full vote Friday.) He repeatedly told his group that he didn't like the fact he had to negotiate behind closed doors either, but this is the corner Boehner backed him into.
And he drew subtler contrasts with Boehner when given the chance. Boehner's smoking and drinking habits were well known in the Capitol; in an interview Tuesday with Politico's Playbook, Ryan casually dropped how he gets up at 6 a.m. to work out every day.
Indeed, Ryan's comments upon moving into Boehner's smoky office that he'd have to "detoxify the environment" could be taken more than one way.
Ryan is working so hard to avoid being lumped into the same category as his predecessor because he knows that to be cast as just another Boehner would be a potentially fatal blow to his speakership. Toward the end of Boehner's tenure, it seemed everything the former speaker tried to do earned the wrath of the most conservative House Republicans -- a group that is increasingly skeptical of the motives of anyone with ties to the establishment.
Ryan ran that risk too just by taking the leadership post: As he was ascending to his new job, conservative pundits who once praised the former vice presidential candidate as one of their own started questioning whether he was conservative enough.
Ryan is not going to appease everyone, of course.
“I don’t understand that at all — give the Democrats what they want now so next time they won’t want as much?” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), the very member Ryan helped get elected to that influential committee.
But overall, the storyline in the Capitol after Ryan struck a deal that looks like a page from Boehner's playbook isn't that Ryan threw conservatives under the bus like Boehner.