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Analysis: Paul Ryan's Powerful Leverage

The intransigent Right is turning its rhetorical guns on an erstwhile hero: Congressman Paul Ryan, whose cheerful conservatism, commitment to policy innovation
and Herculean advocacy of critical entitlement reforms in the face of caustic left-wing demagoguery have earned the Wisconsinite a reservoir of goodwill and respect throughout the center-right coalition.  But that reservoir has run dry for a collection of GOP backbenchers and media figures who are resisting Ryan's reluctant decision to seek the House Speakership, having been pressed into duty over weeks of intense pressure.  His potential run is contingent on several conditions Ryan says must be satisfied in order for him to take the job he's eschewed for years.  His full statement from last night:

Ryan's "demands:"

(1) Unity: Ryan wants the backing of three important coalitions within the House GOP conference, including the moderate Tuesday Group, the conservative Republican Study Committee, and the hardline House Freedom Caucus.  The former two are all but assured, with the HFC being the sticking point.  Some indications suggest that group's members are split on whether to back Ryan; an endorsement requires an 80 percent threshold of support.

(2) Rules reform: One of the tools with which dissatisfied House Freedom Caucus insurgents threatened John Boehner's Speakership was an arcane procedural rule known as a "motion to vacate the chair," authored by no less a figure than Thomas Jefferson.  Ryan's position on this matter is a bit murky; some 
HFC members say he's called for the rule to be eliminated, whereas a Ryan spokesman says the Ways and Means Chairman is open to an approach that would prevent its abuse.  Perhaps there's a compromise in the offing that would preserve the dramatic check on a leader's authority while limiting its over-use by a chronically dissatisfied minority.

(3) Family time: Ryan states unequivocally that he will not "be able to be on the road as much as previous speakers" because of his commitment to parenting "children who are in the formative, foundational years of their lives."  He'd delegate some of those essential travel and fundraising obligations to others, compensating for that accommodation by spending "more time communicating our message," which he argues must shift from primarily oppositional to more propositional.

Certain critics are assailing Ryan from all angles, including -- somewhat astonishingly -- his commitment to raising family. They've also alleged that Ryan is insisting upon unconditional support, a gross exaggeration. Ryan wants his leadership to be blessed by an overwhelming consensus among House Republicans, whom he hopes to lead as a relatively unified conservative governing force. He's not demanding lockstep loyalty on every vote.  He's asking for a strong mandate ushered in by an initial vote of confidence, and he's asking that factions of his own party not relentlessly seek to undermine his leadership over sundry policy and tactical disagreements.  The House Speakership is an extremely powerful position that Ryan has actively
not sought. He doesn't yearn for the job, to put it mildly. Only in the face of harmful dysfunction and unremitting pressure has he hesitantly acceded to considering the role. Efforts to cast him as a power-mad Emporer-in-waiting won't fly.

Ultimately, Ryan holds virtually all of the cards here, a reality that some of his detractors begrudgingly acknowledge.  If the "Fire Paul Ryan" brigade prevails, he'll happily resume his life as an influential, wonky committee chairman who flies home to see his family every weekend.  This is man with leverage.  He knows it, and he's using it.  Another enduring dynamic at play is that Ryan's strident opposition has no viable alternative plan of their own.  The man they've endorsed for Speaker has a conservative rating that has fluctuated greatly during his relatively brief tenure in Congress, and his seat may be imperiled by Florida's court-ordered redistricting regime.  Other floated names have declined to run, likely due to vote-getting realities (remember, there are roughly 207 House Republicans who aren't in the Freedom Caucus and who have their own interests to tend to) and the undesirability of the job in light of the current environment. Which brings us back to the former Vice Presidential nominee:

I'll leave you with this sensible commitment. Good enough for now?

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