Why conservatives shouldn’t want Paul Ryan to be House Speaker

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Official portrait.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). Official portrait.

After Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he wouldn’t run for Speaker of the House, some in his caucus cried. The upheaval and chaos was just too much.

Now some conservatives say they want Paul Ryan to be the next Speaker, with Ryan reluctant to take on the position.

That would be a huge mistake for them.

Democratic candidates would benefit by having Ryan in the Speaker’s chair. A lot.

A Ryan Speakership would nationalize House elections around Ryan’s misguided, unpopular and cruel budget.

The Ryan budget involves a huge transfer of wealth from the middle-class and poor to the top level of the income spectrum. It does that with its combination of tax cuts and cuts in programs.

That combination is deeply unpopular, as are Ryan’s proposals to privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare.

Moreover, it’s so cruel that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops specifically criticized the Ryan budget as failing fundamental moral tests.

Ryan used to be considered a sort of policy wonk, but the existence of many magical asterisks in his budgets and unfounded empirical views on supply side economics have undermined his reputation.

Ryan himself did a poor job of defending his ideas in his 2012 debate with Vice President Joe Biden.

None of this has made his plan less supported by the House Republican caucus.

In fact, as columnist Jonathan Chait astutely pointed out, the presidential campaign can be summarized as who will sign the Ryan budget. All the Republican candidates would. All the Democratic candidates wouldn’t. Yet this has gotten rather limited attention.

Making Paul Ryan the Speaker means more attention to that horrific budget plan, and forces every candidate to take a position on it.

Instead of incumbent Republicans focusing on local issues, the campaign is nationalized around something that’s not popular and not good policy.

Given the way congressional districts are populated, it will be hard for Democrats to win back the House. But a number of incumbent Republicans would be endangered by making the Ryan budget central to 2016 House races.

Indeed, the ads write themselves.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.