Paul Ryan: I already voted for that guy who's heading up our ticket this year

Drudge had a headline running yesterday or the day before that referred to “Rat Ryan.” Rat? A friend reminded me that that was an acronym introduced by Sarah Palin to describe #NeverTrumpers: RAT = Republicans Against Trump. Right, but Ryan isn’t a #NeverTrumper. He endorsed Trump months ago. What he’s “against” is campaigning with Trump, for the sensible reason that the guy’s favorability is smoking garbage and photo ops with the Speaker of the House would have made it easier for Democrats to use Trump against House Republicans downballot. When Ryan pulled the plug on joint rallies with Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape, he was protecting his caucus — a move Trumpers should appreciate if they believe half the things they say about how crucial it is to stop Hillary Clinton’s agenda. Come next week, the Republican House may be the last hope of doing that. But Ryan never yanked his own formal support of Trump. And if you believe him here, his own vote for That Guy Whose Name He Won’t Say is already in the bank. I’m guessing he … won’t be rewarded for his loyalty.

Thought experiment: If you’re all-in on replacing Ryan as Speaker, which outcome next week is most likely to make that happen? (Besides Republicans losing the House, I mean.) A Trump loss would leave Ryan as the de facto head of the party, a situation that wouldn’t normally inspire a politician to quit, but that role has its own headaches in our populist age. He’d be attacked viciously by grassroots right-wingers every time he considered compromising with Clinton on legislation. It’d be Boehner redux except that the nationalists smarting over Trump’s defeat would have even more incentive to punish the other wing of the party for its perceived betrayals, anticipating a new fight over the GOP’s direction in 2020. Maybe Ryan would say “to hell with it” and step aside to let someone else lead the House against Hillary. On the other hand, if Trump won, Ryan might seize the opportunity to quit since he’d no longer be needed as a bulwark against a Clinton White House. The nation had voted and Trump Republicanism had triumphed; time for Ryan Republicanism to get out of the way, starting with Ryan himself. The attacks he’d suffer as Speaker from populists for compromising with a President Clinton would be twice as harsh if he resisted President Trump’s nationalist agenda, yet another reason for Ryan to retire. But I don’t know — he’d come under a ton of pressure from his ideological allies on the right to stay put and continue the fight against Trump for the soul of the GOP, especially if, as expected, Democrats end up with a majority in the Senate. Does Ryan really want to leave government in the hands of Trump, Chuck Schumer, and whoever ends up replacing him in the House? Depending upon whom we get as Speaker, that could be a cocktail for some mighty big bipartisan government.

The outcome that might be most conducive to him quitting is the least likely outcome right now: Clinton wins the presidency but the GOP holds the Senate. With Trump out of the way, Ryan wouldn’t feel the same pressure to battle on for the soul of the party. If anything, him stepping aside shortly after Trump’s defeat would give the party a fresh start in choosing its next direction. And with the Senate in Republican hands, there’d be an added bulwark against Clinton’s agenda in Congress, taking some of the pressure off Ryan to stay put in the House to do battle with Hillary. Between the two of them, Mitch McConnell and Ryan’s replacement should be able to block whatever Democratic initiatives need blocking. But as I say, the odds of Democrats turning out next week in numbers sufficient to elect Hillary but not sufficient (or not sufficiently party-line) to tilt the few key Senate races Dems need to retake the Senate seem minuscule. Unless Trump wins and Ryan decides to formally capitulate to nationalists on behalf of “conservatarianism” by stepping down, I think you’re stuck with him for two more years. Assuming, that is, a few anti-Ryan types in his caucus don’t revolt in January and block his reelection as Speaker…