The retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan is the biggest political news story this week, but in the scheme of things, it is of very little consequence, based on the trajectory of the Republican Party. From a conservative perspective, Ryan isn’t the problem with House Republicans; he is a symptom of the problem. The problem is the Republican Party itself, as it’s currently constituted.
All of the Capitol Hill palace intrigue will focus on two things: how Ryan’s retirement is the last nail in the coffin of the GOP majority and who will jockey for the vacant positions as all the existing critters seek promotions up the rungs of the leadership latter. But none of that matters unless there is a sea change in the way the entire party operates.
The GOP majority in the House was gone anyway. Until and unless Republicans run new candidates with a new, bold vision, they were taking all the hits of being in control and gaining nothing of what Republicans supposedly stand for.
Some will say that the Senate is all the matters at this point. But the Senate is 100 times more liberal than even the House has been. The Senate GOP majority never mattered in the first place.
“But what about the courts and judicial nominees?”
Take a look at what is going on in the courts and decide for yourself if we are actually changing our current path straight to to Sodom and Gomorrah.
As for the jockeying of positions, Kevin McCarthy, a less intelligent version of Ryan, will climb up the leadership ladder and drag with him the useless and impotent players one step below him. Perhaps the current number-three leader, Steve Scalise, will make a strong play for the speakership, but despite his outreach to conservatives, nothing meaningful will change. For conservatives to focus on “getting a seat at the leadership table” is a fool’s errand. It’s akin to fighting for a small hole to house your diamond within a swamp. Even if we succeed, that diamond will eventually smell like the swamp. Leadership is merely a reflection of the broader party, which will never work for us under its current structure, ideas, and messaging.
How we got here
Democrats controlled Congress for two generations in the latter part of the 20th century, often with near-super-majorities. Republicans simply felt content to operate within the Democrat paradigm and offer no alternative vision for the country other than what Democrats were promoting. But Democrats of that era were to the right of most modern Republicans on many issues.
Newt Gingrich came along in the early ’90s and started offering a new vision with bold leadership that eventually led to the revolution of ’94. Republicans have held the House for all but four years since that point, and even when they lost it in 2006, Democrats ran candidates in strategic districts that were more conservative on “God, gays, and guns” than most Republicans are today.
The problem was never the message of the ’94 election; it was what they did with it. The House had a pretty good run for a few years, but the Senate was a liberal bastion from day one of GOP control. The distraction of the politics of Clinton’s impeachment and the ensuing Bush years led the GOP far away from the ’94 message rather than improving upon it. We now know that the longest-serving GOP speaker during the golden era of the Bush years, Dennis Hastert, was a “serial child molester.”
Republicans have enjoyed electoral success intermittently since the Obama years, primarily running against the radicalness of modern Democrats, not on the truth and justice of their own ideas.
Paul Ryan is a superlative example of what is wrong with the GOP. He campaigns one way, on broad platitudes but not specifics, and then at every crucial point, he enacts legislation that does the exact opposite. He refuses to allow good messaging bills to the floor and focuses most of the floor schedule on banal ideas not much loftier than naming post offices. This great supposed fiscal conservative has overseen the biggest expansion of federal deficits, excepting the first two years of Obama, and we are now slated for interest payments on the debt to rise above Medicaid spending in just two years and above military spending in five years.
The great supposed champion of free market health care led us to the greatest expansion of Medicare crony payments that is hurting physicians and left the insurance cartel stronger than ever, thanks to Obamacare.
Rather than promoting dozens of winning ideas to protect America’s sovereignty, security, and economy from unfair practices of illegal immigration, Ryan’s fanatical support for open borders, reflected by the party’s elites, has scuttled every good policy and messaging bill on the issue.
Ryan sold himself as a religious Catholic conservative, but he was an early supporter of codifying the sexual identity movement into civil rights, blocked meaningful pro-life legislation, and made the House a no-fly zone for religious liberty legislation or responding to judicial tyranny.
Like all Republican leaders, he claimed to support gun rights, but led a House that declined to pass a single pro-gun bill until the very end, when they used concealed carry reciprocity as a ruse to pass gun control.
Conservatives should use the speaker’s race as a means, not an end
Now Republicans are broken and without direction, while conservatives remain homeless. We need a bold vision, a galvanizing force-multiplier – and we need it now.
I’m not saying one of the few conservatives shouldn’t challenge Kevin McCarthy or Steve Scalise for leadership. It would be great if Jim Jordan or Mark Meadows would run to give voice to the forgotten man. Obviously, either will lose, because there are more of them than there are of us. But what is more important is to use that run as a platform to attract a new generation of voters and rally them behind a new contract with America. A new bill of rights for taxpayers and consumers with specific and systemic government reform ideas will not only rejuvenate a conservative base but offer disenchanted voters in the middle a reason to vote for selected Republicans who sign on to them. This will also provide the few remaining conservatives with a launching point to secede from the party conference and stand before the voters on their own two feet, untainted by the baggage of the GOP. These members can also pledge that unless a speaker candidate commits to bringing these bills to the floor, they will not support that candidate.
As I noted in my blueprint for such a movement, running on a new platform divorced from leadership will be even more powerful than what Newt Gingrich did because it will be orchestrated by Republicans who are officially in power but are really a minority of the majority. They also need to back conservative challengers to the very people who empower Ryan and McCarthy instead of shying away from going after colleagues. If they act as colleagues of the GOP swamp, voters will treat them as such in November.
Heading forward, it is more important for conservatives to field a new, galvanizing vision and strategy than to focus simply on another candidate for speaker of a GOP conference that is irretrievably broken.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.