Though it took John Boehner a few years to go from being the Republican Party’s leader to its arch-nemesis, the groundbreaking opportunities afforded by the internet news cycle have given Representative Paul Ryan the chance to go from beloved to potentially the worst Speaker in history in only a few days — even though he has yet to be elected House Speaker, or even say that he has any interest in taking the role.
A few days after it seemed like the whole Republican Party wanted Paul Ryan to be Speaker — except for, of course, Paul Ryan — conservative hardliners of all stripes came out of the woodwork to say that they had a very bad feeling about all of this.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin called Ryan “anything but conservative,” and Erick Erickson said he was acting like “John Boehner’s even weaker sister.” The dreaded “B-word” has appeared frequently in the latest volley of insults aimed at Ryan. A guest on “Breitbart News Sunday” said Ryan was the “absolute worst option.” Several local tea party groups have reportedly threatened to retaliate against elected officials who support Ryan in a Speaker election.
The tea-party types are wary of Ryan for the same reasons they hated Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: Because he is an insider in an age when they are only interested in elevating the least likely political leaders, and because he is willing to use compromise — which firebrands consider one of the Unforgivable Curses. This wing of the party is also outnumbered, and at some point, their season of overthrowing Establishment leaders is going to end — and it probably won’t end with a complete tea-party takeover. Because of this, conservatives actually in the House have made sure to dress up their disapproval for Ryan in very nice backhanded compliments. They may not like the idea of Ryan being Speaker, but they also realize that their influence will only take them so far.
Representative Louie Gohmert told reporters on Friday that he could never vote for Ryan, but added, “I love Paul, he’s one of the smartest guys here.” Representative Jim Jordan, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said his group might “look favorably on” Ryan, “but we’re not there yet.”
Even Donald Trump, the filterless muse of a certain flavor of conservatism, couldn’t help joining the passive-aggressive fun, though he won’t be able to vote for or against Ryan in the near future. He told Sean Hannity on Monday, “I think he’s a terrific guy. But he’s very, very weak on illegal immigration, and that hurts from my standpoint … I know plenty of tough guys that aren’t smart, and I know the other, too, and I don’t think that works either in this case. We need tough and we need smart, and if we don’t get that, it’s problems.”
While the right fringe of his party tests out different ways to voice their continuing indecisiveness about the Speaker race, Paul Ryan is still trying to convince people that this is a stupid thing to debate at all. He is instead prepping his Halloween costume; according to CNN, he is dressing up like Mitt Romney — the patron saint of those definitely not thinking about entering a race, unless they are.