This may be an idea that nearly violates the laws of physics, but here goes: As everyone assembles horserace stories and betting lines for Paul Ryan’s successor, how about hitting a seven-month pause button?
I know how crazy this sounds. Every manual for seeking office suggests a crisp, early start. That would mean every candidate looking to run for Speaker of the House should start positioning right now, while attention to the vacancy remains high. But as Ryan announced his retirement intention Tuesday, one thought rushed to the foreground as I evaluated the big names likely to announce, and maybe even some potential surprises. It occurred to me: shouldn’t we see if a Republican Speaker’s race is even going to happen?
This is not driven by pessimism. As loud choruses sing of a Blue Wave that will hand the House of Representatives back to Democrats, I remain deeply skeptical. Of course the left is mightily torqued off and ready to derail the Trump agenda; but I foresee as autumn unfolds a surge of realization among Republicans that losing the house in November means articles of impeachment in January. That obstacle to every item on the Trump agenda should mobilize every conservative voter to show up to mitigate the pushback that usually accompanies the midterms following a presidential win.
But in a year where anything is possible, the smartest Republican strategy involves focusing on that main goal: keeping the majority. A busy, tense, distracting Speaker’s race is not helpful toward that end.
An instant scrum balkanizes the party at a time when it should show as much unity as possible. The various wings of the party still exist: supporters and critics of Trump, conservatives and moderates along the fiscal and social scales, hawks and isolationists on the world stage. But one phrase should obliterate all of those differences: “Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
So the key question: Can every aspirant to the Speakership restrain the flow of competitive juices for the relative eternity of just over half a year? Just writing that sentence, the answer comes back: probably not. The path to victory involves heavy courtship of the full scope of the GOP membership, and it’s a tough sell to ask everyone to hold back until the morning of November 7.
But there are upsides. A communal agreement to delay the Speaker’s race would reveal a focus and pragmatism attractive to voters. It is easy to see a sharp-elbowed fight dimming voter enthusiasm as questions over priorities would properly arise. The hopefuls might be asked which means more, the team victory that keeps the majority, or their quest for a title?
Waiting until November also allows the aspirants to know whom they are dealing with. Imagine the frustration of spending extensive face time this summer with an incumbent who gets voted out; imagine the positive optics of letting the voters decide who will be schmoozed between November and January.
The positives are many, but the scales may still tip toward a race that is in full bloom before we even get out of April. If the main storyline is to feature a battle royal between Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise, both camps are probably itching to start the roundup. And if they are to be joined by others, such as Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions or Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, an alternative campaign has a special compulsion to crank up early.
But if it is at all possible, there is great benefit in a display of patience and big-picture wisdom. If every candidate to succeed Paul Ryan can help propel the boat for a while, there is a greater likelihood of the captain’s chair staying available. They would be free to wink and nudge and feign suspended interest in the big office, and they would surely be wrangling support behind the scenes. But even the mere appearance of message discipline could be of substantial value to the party and to their individual prospects for the Speakership.