Writing at Slate, Jim Newell ably lays out the reasons why it would be stupid for Paul Ryan, who is not stupid, to seek or accept the nomination at the Republican convention in Cleveland this year (which already has a perfect theme song). Basically, as follows:
- He can’t win.
- He ruled out running, again.
- Because he can’t win.
It’s a compelling argument! And it’s based in reality. After all, between them, Cruz and Trump are pulling some 80% of the votes, and there would be an open revolt in the base. Who would vote for him? Democrats hate him because, well, he’s a Randian superman wants to starve the poor, despite dewy protests to the contrary. And because he’s taken the role of Speaker of the House, he’s seen as a betraying Chamberlain by the far right (i.e. most of the Republican Party). The Ryan Bubble, as Newell points out, is driven by the same media who has heaped lavish praise on his non-existent wonkitude. That’s all true. My counterpoint though, is thus:
- Come on…
Paul Ryan is a man who deeply believes his own hype. His unashamedly manages to promote an image as a serious numbers-driven wonk despite being told by literally everyone who understands these things that his proposed budgets are fairy tales that don’t come within sniffing distance of actual math. Despite that, he’s gotten the mainstream “liberal” media, desperate for a reasonable Republican so they can have balance, to promote his message for him. Paul Ryan, we’re told, is a serious man. He’s running an interesting, reality-based shadow campaign. He is the anti-Trump and the counter-Cruz, despite being just as based in a cruel, rigid, right-wing unreality as either of them.
It’s a neat trick! It would be a fun one to pull off. And it is intoxicating. Here’s the thing about politicians: they all believe they can be President until it becomes absolutely clear they won’t be. There are always enough people telling them that they can, and should. It’s really easy to believe. They also never believe they are really as unpopular as all that. I guarantee you Paul Ryan hasn’t quite gotten to believe he is now an enemy to the same right that praised him recently. He was brought on the 2012 ticket to balance out ol’ moderate Mitt. He can’t be considered an apostate already, right?
So when we get to Cleveland, Paul Ryan will be hearing from all the right people that not only can he be President, but that he can save his beloved party. Why wouldn’t he believe this? He’s a man who has succeeded way beyond his actual abilities and intelligence. He’s always been his own John Galt, forging a path where lesser, not-as-ripped men would fail. And the party unity thing? He’s got a trick up his sleeve, and it’s called Hillary Clinton.
Hillary has been the castrating demonatrix she-witch of the American right for a quarter-century. Ryan has to believe that if he can get into an election with her, the shrieking goatmen that make up the goonish Republican id will be so hyped up to stop her they’ll forget about Trump and Cruz in a heartbeat. There’s something to that, too. People who don’t remember 1991-2008 forget just how irrationally loathed Hillary is. She was partly rehabbed on the right because it was convenient weapon against Obama, but that’s gone. Once we get to the general, it will be a disgusting misogynist nightmare. It stands to reason that Paul Ryan calculates he can ride that to the White House.
People will forget about his pledge. When it comes to these conventions, it is better to find your hat in the ring than to be seen throwing it. Parties don’t have to be internally democratic, so long as they want to win, and he can be the guy who does it. To be clear, I think when push comes to shove it will still be Cruz or Trump, probably the former. And Newell is right that if Ryan does somehow maneuver to get the nomination, he’ll be destroyed. The Party would be a riot. But it is probably wrong to take Ryan at his word here. I think he believes he can win, which adds another layer of drama to the race. His pseudo-Capra non-candidacy is just another sign of the crumbling Republican Party. River fires have nothing on this deserved disaster.