Some House Republicans expect Ryan to step down as Speaker after Tuesday; Update: Ryan says he'll run

Are we sure it’s just House Republicans? This passage from a new profile of Mike Pence at NRO is interesting. Pence and Ryan are old friends — and yet:

In our interview, Pence declined three times to answer the question of whether Ryan should be reelected as speaker. “My respect for Paul Ryan is boundless,” he says, repeating it twice. “I’m not a member of the House Republican conference anymore. I wouldn’t presume upon what the members of the conference choose.”

Hmm! Ryan’s not popular right now among Pence’s new Trump-y base nor among Republican voters generally since he declared he wouldn’t campaign with Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape dropped last month. He’s tried to atone since then, telling Fox News a few days ago that he’s already cast his vote in Wisconsin for Trump/Pence, but this rift will never fully heal. There’s too much at stake ideologically: The true-believing nationalists who want to move the GOP in their direction will be eager to bounce Ryan as Speaker as a consolation prize if Trump falls short on Tuesday. Losing the election would be bad but losing their chance to take over the party would be intolerable, and Ryan’s “conservatarianism” is the main stumbling block to that. Deposing him will quickly become their new mission post-election.

If you believe The Hill, various House Republicans don’t expect him to survive the challenge:

Four House Republicans, including a senior lawmaker close to leadership, told The Hill they expect Ryan to step down after Tuesday’s elections, arguing that he faces a daunting path to the 218 votes he needs to win a full two-year term leading the House GOP…

It’s not just the usual Freedom Caucus members who are pushing for change at the top; some more mainstream Republicans from safe GOP districts could pull their support over Ryan’s handling of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, lawmakers said…

“Those who talk to Paul say he is all in to stay Speaker,” the lawmaker continued. “But if you talk to members from the South, many will struggle to vote for him — even though they like him — because their constituents are furious” over his treatment of Trump.

One conservative GOP lawmaker told The Hill last week that a “fresh start” might be needed in the House and that Ryan would probably “step aside.”…

“If Trump wins, Ryan wins,” said one Southern GOP lawmaker who is still supporting Ryan and believes he will run again. “I have been hit hard in my district by folks who know Paul and I are friends. He is probably more unfavorable in my district than [former Speaker] John Boehner was.”

Electing the Speaker is a two-step process. The House Republican caucus votes on the 15th for a nominee, then the full House votes in January. Ryan will win the caucus vote (although 43 Republicans voted against him last year) but the full House vote will be dicey given the certainty that the GOP’s majority will be smaller next year. Ryan got 236 Republican votes in the Speaker election held last October, with nine GOPers supporting other candidates. If those nine hold firm in January and 20 of those 236 supporters are defeated by Democrats next week, Ryan would be stuck at 216 votes — two shy of what he’d need for a House majority. That’s why there’s chatter that he might pull the plug soon after the election. Between the number of Republican seats lost on Tuesday and the number of ardent Ryan opponents left in the caucus afterward, it should be easy to calculate whether Ryan stands a chance realistically of getting 218 in January. If it looks like he can’t, he’ll have to either withdraw from the race or gamble that some of those resolute opponents can be convinced to support him with some persuasion in December. A week ago, with Trump looking at a decisive defeat, Ryan might have thought that the pro-Trump resistance to him in the House would fade quickly after the election, with Trump being discarded by the party as a loser. Now that the election looks tight, that might not be as likely. Hard feelings may linger, especially if Trump publicly blames Ryan in part for his defeat. And why wouldn’t he? Blame-shifting is what he does.

Ryan’s spokesmen insist this Hill story is garbage, but then they would, wouldn’t they? Any intimation now that Ryan won’t run again as Speaker would be an earthquake and would hand the media an unhelpful “Republicans in disarray!” storyline right before polls open. Besides, he probably does plan to run — for the moment. He might not know until the caucus leadership elections on November 15th whether there are enough votes to block him in January or not.

Oh, and as for Pence’s surprising non-endorsement of Ryan in the NRO piece, he walked that back last night, telling CNN he hopes Ryan is reelected Speaker. The two of them will campaign together in Wisconsin tomorrow. There’s one way for Ryan to re-ingratiate himself to Trumpers: If Trump pulls the upset Tuesday on the strength of a shocking victory in Wisconsin, Ryan will get some credit for having helped make it happen. That should be worth a detente between Trump and Ryan of a … month or two, maybe? Hopefully?

Worth mentioning, albeit only as a very long longshot: Ryan could get to 218 in the full House vote in January even if he can’t get there within his own caucus by making some sort of deal with Pelosi and the Democrats for their votes. Democrats are going to get a Republican Speaker regardless; they might as well influence the outcome if they have an opportunity by supporting Ryan. There’s no reason, though, to think Ryan wants the Speaker’s gavel badly enough that he’d make concessions to Pelosi to hold onto it. And even if he were willing, the prospect of a Republican Speaker caving to Dems would probably cause many more House Republicans to pull their votes from Ryan, leaving him short of 218 anyway. For a GOP/Dem coalition to emerge, there’d need to be a deadlock in which no Republican can get to 218 because various blocs within the caucus are implacably opposed to each candidate who emerges for different ideological reasons. Seems unlikely to the point of near-impossibility, but who knows with this party anymore.

Update: No surprise — Ryan says he’ll run for Speaker again. Let’s see what he says in a few weeks if in fact there are 15-20 Republicans who want him to step down.