More than a week after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the House Speaker race, Representative Paul Ryan has managed to make endless headlines by doing little but think. (It’s been a good week for news stories where the political action doesn’t go much beyond a notable furrowed eyebrow or a “chin grab while staring aimlessly at the ceiling” sighting; Joe Biden has also managed to captivate election junkies by doing little but providing frequent updates on the fact that he continues to ponder.)
As Paul Ryan has done nothing but think about the meaning of his life at great length, the context of his big decision — Do I want to be miserable forever and never see my kids and be House Speaker or no? — has continued to change. Most Republican Establishment types are still firmly in the pro-Ryan camp, while many conservatives — the kind who would see the terrifying image of a bill passed with a handful of Republican concessions when confronting a boggart — are worried that Ryan would be just like current House Speaker John Boehner if elected, if not worse.
If Paul Ryan doesn’t become House Speaker, however, Republicans haven’t yet thought of a good alternative.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid walked into this miasma of contemplation on Tuesday, announcing, “I’m a Paul Ryan fan.”
It wasn’t a completely glowing review — more like a compliment tempered in a lukewarm puddle of “meh.” Reid added that Ryan “appears to be one of the people over there that could be reasonable. I mean, look at some of the other people.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin also told the New York Daily News that Paul Ryan was great at compromise. “We don’t see much of that coming out of the House Republicans,” he said. Senator Barbara Mikulski offered a more measured assessment of Ryan to Roll Call: “We’ll have to see how that goes.”
The tepid endorsements, toxic enough that a thumbs-up from a Lil’ Sebastian–riding zombie Reagan is probably the only thing strong enough to counter it, will probably not do much to speed up the Tough Mudder Ryan’s brain is currently competing in — something Reid is probably aware of.
“I speak the truth,” Reid said. “If it helps him, fine. If it doesn’t, too bad.”
Ryan wasn’t the only House Republican to get praise from the opposition today; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called current House Speaker John Boehner “courageous” for deciding to leave Congress instead of continuing to unsuccessfully fight his party. However, unlike Ryan, Boehner gets to leave town forever once this game of congressional checkers ends.
On Tuesday evening, Ryan will meet with a bunch of other House Republicans to discuss his career options — and try to figure out if there is a way he could even become Speaker without making significant concessions to the House Freedom Caucus, which is afraid that House Speaker Paul Ryan would be a compromise-happy traitor like the one Harry Reid is picturing. On Wednesday morning, they’ll meet again.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered some advice for Ryan in a Washington Post article on Tuesday: “Don’t underestimate the degree of getting chewed up.”