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Paul Ryan & The Blood of the Tiger

This is the second part of a series on Ryan’s ascent to the Speakership. Part one is here.

There is a natural tendency – especially at Ordinary Times, but elsewhere as well – to characterize the GOP as constantly in search of a hero. Always looking for the next Reagan. Paul Ryan, arguably, was emblematic of this around 2011 and 2012. He became the first congressman to be selected on a presidential ticket in almost thirty years, and the second in well over fifty. A lot of that was his youth, energy, and what was perceived to be his unfailing conservatism. Or something.

Three years later, with Cantor knocked off, Boehner leaving, and McCarthy out, Paul Ryan is once again looked to as the Stalwart of Conservatives. Or, at least, of Republicans. Is this yet another manifestation of the Republicans looking for a hero to save them? Initially, there was some justification for this view. If the idea was that they tap Ryan, Ryan is accepted by the rabble-rousers, and justice is restored to the Kingdom of Elephants. If that was the illusion, it was disabused pretty quickly. And predictably.

It was entirely foreseeable, and I suspect foreseen, that Paul Ryan would be the subject of some immediate pushback. That the guy who was considered Mr Conservative three years ago would suddenly become Not Conservative Enough. Because of course he is. Because of course they would. They could theoretically have declared victory. “See? For all that you fellow Republicans hate us, we replaced a less conservative option with a more conservative one. This is why we fight!” But to have embraced victory would be to embrace responsibility. It would embrace being accountable to those who have no sense of what tangible victory would look like and to people whose only sense of victory is another notch in their belt.

So, it is of no surprise whatsoever that many of the same elements that lambasted Boehner immediately started in on Ryan. It is no surprise that Ryan would become the next pachyderm metamorphosed into a rhinoceros. Many of them have lost sight of who they are fighting, or what they are fighting for. The fighting has become a thing unto itself. The belt-notches have become not a means to an end, but an end unto themselves. They fashion themselves warriors, but have become nothing more than reavers for fun and profit. They imagine themselves heroes, but are more reminiscent of Charlie Sheen shouting “Winning!” and “Tiger blood!”

The Tigerblood Caucus is something of an amorphous group and opinions will differ on who is included and who isn’t. The Tigerblood King Donald Trump has shed some light on this within GOP circles as people sort themselves into camps. As it turns out, almost all of talk radio save perhaps Hugh Hewitt are in the Tigerblood faction. On the borderline has been the House Freedom Caucus, the House’s successor to the nascent Tea Party. The perception is that they are the ones who took down Boehner (or had the power to do so), and so they stood as the principal opposition.

Which brings us to Paul Ryan.

Most politicians, when they say they don’t want a job that they are flirting with, they’re being coy. There are, however, exceptions. Paul Ryan is almost certainly one of them. Further, most indications are that Ryan’s reticence was rooted in precisely the reasons that he gave: Herding cats isn’t his bag. He wants to spend time with his family. Surely, in a House with over 230 Republican members there’s someone else who can do the job?

Except, of course, there isn’t. And so, Paul Ryan. Why Paul Ryan? Because only Paul Ryan.

Which is why he couldn’t easily say “no.” It’s also why I believe the demands he gave were not some ploy to get out of doing the job, but rather because there were limits to what he was and was not willing to do.

The most contentious of these became his desire not to have to so fully envelop himself in the job as previous Speakers have done. This has been criticized (“How dare he put family before country!” says Laura Ingraham) and the criticisms have been criticized (“When did the GOP become anti-family?”). I am sympathetic to where Ryan is coming from on this. Ryan is in a different situation than most former Speakers. Namely, he still has young children at home. And given his past behavior, that does actually seem to be important to him. He was asked to run for president in 2012 and declined. He accepted the Vice Presidential nomination, but he had to be called to it. He would have been in a great position to run for president in 2016 but very quickly and forthrightly shot down any speculation on that. He has said he intends to serve in Congress for a while and then go home (perhaps with lucrative lobbying expeditions to Washington).

That said, my views are – surprisingly – more aligned with the Tigerblood Caucus on this. The Speakership really is a demanding job and a high level of commitment should be required. In any other circumstances, it would and should be an immediate disqualifier. Let the job go to someone that has the time and energy to devote himself to it. Or only let Paul do it with a very strong deputy, which he doesn’t seem to have. I have some pretty strong reservations about his ability to be an effective Speaker, and how long he will survive at the job. Not that he will be chased out amongst screams of “Tigerblood!” but because it seems to be a formula for relatively fast burnout and/or genuine concerns over his ability to balance work and home. But these are not normal circumstances.

There have, of course, also been cries that he lacks the Blood of the Tiger. He’s moderate! He lost in 2012! Loser! We need someone strong! This argument is weaker because, well, there isn’t much in Ryan’s history to suggest that he is especially prone to nascent liberalism. The only thing that stands out is immigration. And here, the criticism is pretty valid. The anti-immigration contingent is stronger in their criticism and rightfully so (given their priors). They believe that they have the support of the majority of the caucus on this issue, which they do. They believe that the national poll numbers indicate that their views are not nearly as unpopular as the conventional wisdom suggests, and they’re not wrong. They argue that there is absolutely no reason to believe that Romney’s poor showing among Hispanics had much of any effect on the outcome of the 2012 race, and it pretty much didn’t. These are not flawless arguments, but they are arguments perpetually waved away by the party.

The anti-immigration faction is scared to death of getting screwed. And they’re pretty much right to be because they probably will be screwed. And Paul Ryan is just the man for that particular job. Even a Republican in the White House won’t help, because the party’s establishment has been itching to line up behind someone with a questionable (from their perspective) history on the subject. They cite the emergence of Trump as a rejection of compromise in this area that is embodied by Jeb, Rubio, and (formerly) Walker. To them the issue is existential, and Ryan is on the wrong side of it.

The border hawks, at least, have tangible objectives that can be debated and measured. They have land which they wish to acquire, or at least not cede, rather than seeking to simply destroy. Paul Ryan tried to make a concession to them, but they deemed it insufficient. That’s all politics. It’s a lot to expect Mark Krikorian (for whom immigration is the issue of our time) and Mickey Kaus (who is a liberal but for a few issues, immigration chief among them) to overlook it and accept the Paul’s relatively minimal assurance. That is the hill they have chosen on which to fight.

The heart and soul of the Tigerblood Faction are not those that would discount Ryan because he is wrong on the existential issue of our time. It’s those who have chosen this issue precisely because Ryan is wrong on it. Because they need to hold on to the narrative of the “GOP Establishment” betraying conservatism. They need not be responsible for considering the actual compromises that make things happen, and the losses that must be endured without going nuclear. They’re people, from talk show hosts to clickservatives to PACs for Profit whose financial interest lies not with yards lost or gained, but bodies taken off the field in stretchers. You can try to compromise with and accommodate the border hawks, or the immigration hawks, or anyone with an agenda and perspective on what is and isn’t possible. You can’t compromise with an atom bomb.

The problem for them, and the essentialness of Paul Ryan, is that out of 230+ members in the House, he is the only one that is bigger than they are. They can try to paint him as a RINO and a sellout, but even in today’s environment some about-faces cause whiplash. They can’t define him the way they did Boehner because people already know Ryan and most of what they knew about Boehner was from the Tigerblood framing of him. And so despite their irritation and exasperation that he came to list his demands and negotiate instead of kiss their rings, the HFC fell into line. And while talk radio is still doing its thing, by all accounts they’re screaming into a void. And a year from now, when Ryan has to do that thing called “governing” they will complain and House members will complain, but nobody is in a better position than Ryan to fight back.

There has been some grumbling among some that Ryan is not an effective spokesperson because 2012 didn’t go as they liked. That Ryan was not able to convince the public that the Romney/Ryan ticket was the right ticket. All of this misses the point, which is that Ryan’s job isn’t to be a spokesperson to the general populace, but to his own caucus. That has become a Republican Speaker’s greatest opponent. That’s the job that the Tigerblood Faction has turned the Speakership into. And Paul Ryan is the only one with a chance of doing it. He has left the Tigerbloods in a position that almost everyone – including people they were trying to draft for the Speakership in recent weeks, is a RINO. He has managed to drive a wedge between the Tigerbloods and virtually anyone else.

Ryan may ultimately fall to the same fate as Boehner, but the prognosis at present is quite good. He didn’t get full compliance with his list of demands, but he has let it be known what his expectations are and he refused to accede to the demands of the HFC before getting a super-majority of their support.. The target of which was not just the House Freedom Caucus, but the rest of the Republican Caucus. Boehner took a bullet for him with the new budget deal that will give Ryan time to more fully entrench himself by the time the debates come up again. Almost everyone is going to be whipping for him in the foreseeable future. In a way that it never was for Boehner, “Don’t **** this up for us” is likely to be the order of the day for Ryan until or unless the Tigerbloods come up with a coordinate a viable way to unseat him. Coming up with plans and coordination aren’t their strong suits.


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Will Truman is the pseudonym of a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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94 thoughts on “Paul Ryan & The Blood of the Tiger

    • Kaus is operationally an agent of the right, but ideologically I’m pretty sure if he took isidewith he would be matched with Hillary and Sanders before any of the elected Republican candidates.

      The biggest thing with him are personality conflict that causes him to downplay his more liberal views (except when they coincide with Trump) and an overwhelming emphasis on immigration, his views on which cone from his leftier concerns about class and inequality.

      But if the parties switched on immigration, I think there is an overwhelming chance that he would go back to being an eccentric lefty.

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  1. Ironically, (or maybe just morissettianly) the whole negging, playing hard to get thing is exactly what the roissyverse dark enlightenment types say is the key to gaining power. So maybe Ryan is playing the deepest game of all. (who was it on twitter that brought up the possibility that Ryan’s camp or Ryan himself was one of the nodes of the whisper campaign against McCarthy?)

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  2. Following Boener’s re-election as Speaker, Boener kicked a bunch of non-supporting people off of committees (replaced by supporters).

    I’m curious as to how Ryan will deal with this. What what Boener did baked into the cake? Will Ryan use committee member ship as a carrot/stick for his supporters/non-supporters? Will some of the old committee members find themselves back on the committees they got kicked off of?

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    • Something I read, (not sure where, maybe from one of the twitter feeds of the OT regulars) was that Ryan promised to go back to ‘regular order’ for the Committee chairs. (If I’m remembering and understanding it correctly), that means that unlike the latter part of Boehner’s reign, where all legislation originated through the Speaker’s office (I’m guessing via the Committee of the Whole), Committee Chairs would again have the prerogative of sending bills to the whole House that their committees had voted on.

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      • What were the results from all legislation going through the Speaker’s office first?

        Were the nutty bills all tabled and only the salvageable ones sent through (and only after thorough reworking)? (Because that’s my guess.)

        I never really thought about how earmarks were likely used to maintain discipline and how, without them being on the table, Boener was forced to use committee membership (and, given this information, getting one’s bill to the floor) as a carrot because he had precious little else to offer.

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        • Hindsight is 20/20, but I think the GOP made some avoidable mistakes — starting with term-limiting chairmanships (“So we put people in charge of a complex area, and then right when they start having enough experience and understanding to make solid decisions, we yank them! Their knowledge, experience, connections and favors to the other members of the committee…GREAT IDEA!”), getting rid of earmarks (“So let’s get rid of one of the simplest and most effective ways to corral party members…and their easiest way to sell stuff to voters”)…..

          Congress is pretty dysfunctional to begin with, but ditching some of the bits that made it work was kind of dumb.

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        • If you really follow regular order and allow bills that pass out of committee of record to reach the floor, you lose the ability to enforce the Hastart Rule unless all your committee chairs are willing to follow orders all the time and block votes there. Two-three years ago, a Senate immigration bill passed out of the House committee with a number of Republican votes and would almost certainly have passed on the House floor (Democrats plus the same moderate Republicans represented on the committee). Instead, it was bottled up in the Rules Committee until the end of the session.

          The Speaker can also avoid the embarrassment of looking weak. IIRC, some of the budget bills passed out of Rep. Ryan’s committee were left to die in the Rules Committee after a number of more moderate Republicans came back from a recess and told the Speaker that they would lose their seats if they passed a budget that included the severe social services cuts included in the bill, so would be voting against them. There was nothing “nutty” about those cuts — they were just at the level that had been called for in the House budget resolution. It’s easy to vote for social welfare cuts in the abstract, but rather more difficult when you have to vote for specific real cuts.

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  3. It had to be Ryan in the following sense: in a game of Russian Roulette pitting two teams against each other, and where one team just keeps shooting themselves in the head, it’ll come to one guy FTW. It has to be that guy!

    The internal logic of FreedomTP and assorted other whackaloons have brought the House and the GOP to this point. I mean, Kasich was right last night: most of these guys are living in a fantasy land. I don’t think Ryan can change that.

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      • That’s not why Ryan is the Only Hope, tho. I agree with Will that he is, but I think we analyze why that’s the case via different methods. :)

        Kasich’s point was that conservative solutions on the table to a wide range of domestic economy issues are pie in the sky fantasies, politically as well as practically. I agree. I think Ryan actually agrees (at least based on some of the stuff that’s been reported). The Free-the-TP party doesn’t.

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        • I think our methods do lend us to different conclusions, though, ultimately. I think Paul is far from doomed. As far as doomed Speaker options go, there were many. Paul was the only one with a good chance of doing reasonably well (significantly better than his predecessor).

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            • Boehner clearing the deck gives Paul Ryan the opportunity to herd cats.

              What remains to be seen is whether or not the cats will take “We can move forward from here” as a goal, or if “Going backwards to undo that terrible deal Boehner made” becomes the new gold standard.

              A goodly number of the “Freedom Caucus” actually appears to believe that the power of the purse is the only tool they have in the bag. The debt ceiling/budget crises are not crises, they are welcome opportunities to get what they want.

              Budget reconciliation will be anathema. “We put in all these riders to the budget to defund this thing we hate and the reconciliation committee just took it all out” may become the new rallying cry.

              I can’t figure these guys out. Like, I get their motivation, but I don’t really actually understand what they consider to be results that would be valid in the short term. My best guess is like Will said in the OP, the fight has become the end goal, itself.

              Which means there’s no particular reason why Ryan will be successful, especially given that the GOP will not hold a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. Especially if Hilary wins in 2016.

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              • Patrick: which means there’s no particular reason why Ryan will be successful, especially given that the GOP will not hold a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. Especially if Hilary wins in 2016.

                Even though Will traces the tension back to 2011, my take is that Boehner did not start really feeling the pressure until the Senate was back in GOP hands. He had plans of departing after this term anyway, which were partially derailled when Cantor lost his seat, but he moved his retirement up from the end of the current term to the middle of it.

                If the Dems take back the Senate (or, equivalently, get a 50/50 split with HRC’s VP giving the Dems control), Ryan gets a heat shield again, like Boehner did. Remember, there was the 40 something (50 something?) votes to repeal PPACA, which of course were DOA in the Senate with Harry Reid as majority leader.

                The more rabble rousing of the GOP caucus do have a small point in ‘ok we took the House, but you said we couldn’t do anything without the Senate. Now, we took the Senate, and now you’re saying we can’t do anything without the White House’.

                The same thing happened on the other side from 2006-2010. “Ok, we took the Congress, but to do anything we need the White House.” “Ok, we took the White House, but now you’re saying to do anything we need Norm Colman’s seat.” “Ok, we took Norm Coleman’s seat, but now you’re saying to do anything we need Ben Nelson to play ball.” “Wait, we got Ben Nelson to play ball with the Cornhusker kickback, but now we lost Ted Kennedy’s seat and are now SOL? WTF?”

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  4. I think Ryan was smart to try to avoid this whatever his true career goals.

    There’s no way as speaker he can continue to collect beltway fluff pieces about how “wonky” he is. And under any even marginally-informed scrutiny his nonsense breaks down pretty fast.

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  5. Trumwill,

    This is slightly off thread, so, with apologies and a question:

    After thinking about the debates last night a bit, I think the race is gonna shape up to a two person affair: Carson and Rubio. Trumps’ disapprovals are too high to overcome once other folks drop outa the race; Fiorina won’t be able to get past her record (or her incessant lying); Bush is toast; Kasich … well …; Cruz is a whackaloon; Christie is Christie!; etc.

    So the race is gonna narrow down to two candidates, each of which represents very different factions within the party. Carson represents the libertarianish Nightwatchmen’s-state conservatives who incline towards really tiny gummint and states rights trumping federal rights and individual rights trumping either with a homespun Christian values sown right in. Rubio represents moderate, pragmatic and Establishment conservatives with a bit of progressive outreach to hispanics (and beyond that I can’t really tell what his specific policies actually are).

    If that scenario plays out, the big question is which candidate will get the nomination. And given what I saw last night – and I’m an outsider to the inside-conservatism-baseball, so take this for what it’s worth – I think Carson’s policies and positions capture more of what conservatives view as “conservatism” than Rubio’s P&Ps. That is, his P&Ps capture more conservatives views than Rubio’s do. Course, the every-present-yet-impossible-to-define property of Electability! is a consideration as well, and I certainly have no idea how conservatives might be swayed by those types of considerations. Anyway, to the point I wanna make: I could very much see the guy getting the nom., moreso than any of the others BUT Rubio, and projecting out from right now, even more THAN Rubio. So right now if I had to put money on anyone, I’d put it on him.

    What do you think?

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    • Mmmm no Still, you’re off base there, sorry. Carson has a heavy evangalitical theme in his campaign and has significant socialcon support. There is no way he goes libertarianish on social policies. I also don’t think he’s a credible candidate; I don’t think he gets out of the first three.
      The contest you’re groping about for is going to be Rubio vs Cruz (after Nevada or so when the wacko-birds all implode) with Rubio playing the establishment moderate and Cruz playing the right wing warrior. Rubio will win, he’s going to get the establishment support and Cruz is despised by the GOP elite (as a person, not because of his policy). The big question is how many social cons limp out of the first immolation to fracture Cruz’s base. If there are few to none then Cruz could actually win despite everything but if Rubio keeps performing he’s going to run away with the nomination.

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      • Yeah, I must be way off base since I don’t see Cruz doing anything in this election that comes close enough to even sniff at competitiveness. We agree about Rubio.

        Going back to Carson, tho: I realize he’s got a pretty heavy Christian vibe in his campaign, but conservatives tend to be pretty heavily religious, so I don’t see that as a strike against. (Especially given current politics about religious liberty and reclaiming it.) What I saw that separates him from past candidates who wear their religion on their sleeve, tho, is a set of economic and political P&Ps which are solidly in the conservative’s secular strike zone. Moreso than any other candidate, actually. And right now he has the highest approvals of anyone running (at least from the polling I’ve seen).

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        • Well we’ll see for sure after the big three or four but I expect he could possibly win Iowa (but I doubt it) and doubt he’ll win anywhere else.

          Cruz hasn’t done much to ‘deserve’ being the nominee. Cruz’s strategy has been to basically be Carson/Trump-like AND also a real politician. He is betting that the neophytes implode and their voters fall to him as the candidate who has both played nice with their faction and generally has avoided criticizing their candidates.

          If Trump et all don’t collapse then Cruz may be in trouble. Then again he may just keep plodding along waiting for it to happen.

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            • Stillwater, I think that there’s people who pick up the phone when a pollster calls. Of those people the overwhelming majority of them say “Oh yeah I’ll vote” when the pollster asks them if they’re going to vote and then some of them say “Yeah I’ll vote Carson/Trump” and others say “I’ll be voting Rubio, Cruz, etc”. I have two points:
              -First: Even if Carson wins Iowa, which I consider maybe possible, he won’t win anywhere else. Who won Iowa last time? Or the time before? Did they go on to win it all?
              -Second: In Iowa and everywhere else when those poll respondants get off work and look out the window into the winter weather and then look at their kitchen and their couch and their television that a much larger number of those who said they’ll vote for Trump/Carson et all will say “Eh fish it” than the ones who said they’ll vote for Rubio/Bush/Cruz.

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            • Another thing to keep in mind vis a vis Iowa & polling is that caucus dynamics are different from primary dynamics in the actual process of voting. I believe that the GOP caucus process is a little more straightforward than the Dem one (and thus, less dependent on an army of highly motivated volunteers at each assembly site), but it’s not quite a simple issue of sampling & statistics to extrapolate opinion poll results to predicted election results.

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