Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan has been a conservative darling for most of the 17 years he’s spent in the House of Representatives, but his stint as House Speaker could be coming to an end in the wake of a divisive 2016 election cycle.
Ryan, who reluctantly took the job after John Boehner resigned in 2015, has angered GOP conservatives with his waffling stance on Republican nominee Donald Trump and his Boehner-like tendency to compromise too deeply with Democrats on spending battles. For many Trump supporters in the House – to say nothing of the American public – Ryan has become the ultimate symbol of the Washington establishment.
While Ryan is fairly popular with the House GOP at large, he is on probation with the Freedom Caucus – a group of about 40 representatives who are tired of watching their party give the farm away every time a budget fight materializes on Capitol Hill. Furthermore, they have had it with Ryan’s refusal to support Trump.
Earlier this month, Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine put it in blunt terms: “Given the stakes of this election, if Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump, then I’m not for Paul Ryan.”
According to the Washington Post, some on the right want to see some hard promises from Ryan before they commit to supporting his continued speakership:
Some members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus have crafted a list of demands — including deep spending cuts, changes to House rules and a promise to vote only on bills that have majority Republican support — in exchange for their support.
“If the speaker can’t answer yes to those on paper, I’m going to someone who can,” said Rep. David Brat (R-Va.). “From now on it needs to be on paper, in writing, with a blood oath of some sort pledging your house and mortgage on the line, too.”
Ryan’s ultra-conservative voting record makes him an odd target for this kind of siege, but alas, the country – and the Republican Party – is changing rapidly. Voters are growing weary of politicians who check all the ideological boxes yet are rendered powerless when facing down the worst of the Obama agenda. And that’s not even getting into the rising sentiment against illegal immigration and globalism, both of which Ryan heartily embraces.
At the end of the day, though, Ryan’s future in the Republican Party may be entirely tied to the November 8th results. If Trump wins, Ryan is likely safe. If he loses, however, he could face a tremendous backlash for his wavering, lukewarm support for Trump – a version of support that has been largely characterized by repeated public criticisms of the nominee. Should the House Freedom Caucus and the conservative electorate hold Ryan responsible for Trump’s defeat, it could signal the end of the line for the once-promising GOP superstar.