Stories about Ryan being ousted as Speaker are the easiest stories in political media to write. All it takes is one grumbly House conservative brain-farting out loud about a coup in front of a reporter and you’re in business. This one bears watching, though, because of the personnel involved. Bannon has a pipeline to the White House and has been searching for ways to depose Ryan, the right’s most prominent “globalist,” for years. And Mark Meadows has the distinction of having successfully engineered a coup against a Republican Speaker once before. It was his challenge to John Boehner in 2015, remember, that led to Boehner throwing in the towel and Ryan being elected.
The perennial question remains unanswered, though. If Ryan goes, who replaces him in this utterly thankless job?
Several people close to Bannon and Meadows said on Wednesday that the two men, who met on Monday on Capitol Hill, have begun to discuss who could replace Ryan as speaker, should conservatives rebel against him. But they stressed that those discussions remain speculative and informal, with no plan yet for action…
[A] conservative lawmaker who is close to the Freedom Caucus did provide a statement to The Washington Post.
“I’ve talked to countless Americans who are fed up with Congress’s inability to get anything done. They see Mitch McConnell and Speaker Ryan as the biggest impediments to enacting President Trump’s agenda,” wrote the lawmaker, who requested anonymity due to sensitivity about directly speaking out against Ryan. “If things don’t change — and fast — the American people will demand new leadership in Congress.”
God bless Meadows for having the courage of his conservative convictions and being willing to act on them in dramatic ways, from challenging the Speaker to pushing a debt-ceiling standoff, after a national election in which both parties repudiated conservatism about as thoroughly as they could. It’s beyond surreal in the age of Trump that there’s intrigue brewing that may determine the course Congress takes for years to come between two guys who appear to have no real national constituencies — Ryan, the pro-trade Randian entitlement reformer, and Meadows, the brinksmanship-prone spending-slasher. It’s a power struggle for control of the “people’s House” between two guys who, um, don’t reflect the priorities of much of their own party, let alone the other one.
In fact, it would make more sense if a coup against Ryan was brewing among moderates, not conservatives. Moderates are more in sync with the Trumpist agenda than conservatives are, after all. If the president wants a monster infrastructure package passed or a tax increase on the very wealthy or a DREAM amnesty, he’s far better off with a centrist Republican in charge of the House than with a Meadows-approved dogmatist like Jeb Hensarling or whomever. Which leads to another mystery: Why haven’t House moderates responded to years of attempted power plays by the Freedom Caucus by organizing a voting bloc of their own in the center for leverage? All they’d need are 23 members to hold Ryan to 217 votes. Odds are next year they’ll need even fewer than that (although, being centrists, they’re likely to suffer higher midterm losses than conservative House members from deep-red districts are). Now seems like an opportune moment for moderate Republicans to reach out to Trump, reminding him that if he’s serious about brokering major deals with Democrats, they’ll be far more reliable partners in that than the Freedom Caucus will. If Trump lets Bannon and Meadows “pick” the next Speaker, he risks having another doctrinaire right-winger blocking him from indulging his centrist tendencies. If instead he uses some muscle to maneuver a centrist into the Speaker’s role, suddenly possibilities for legislation will open up. The conservative minority within the GOP electorate will hate it, but who cares? They held their noses and voted for Trump once before. They’ll do it again.
Now all we need to do is come up with a new Speaker who’ll satisfy most of the caucus. Any ideas? Normally the majority leader would be next in line but Kevin McCarthy isn’t a natural ally of Bannon and Meadows. (Moderates might be A-OK with him, though.) Are there any “true conservatives” willing to serve despite the fact that the party isn’t led by a true conservative and doesn’t have many true conservative voters? Or are we going to play the stupid old game where we remind ourselves that the Constitution doesn’t require the Speaker to be a member of the House, opening up the field to all sorts of wild possibilities? Don’t anyone tell Trump that. He’ll probably want Sheriff Clarke.
Update: For cripes sake. I guess we’re going to play the stupid old game.
Meadows and Bannon have also discussed far less plausible options, such as replacing Ryan with [Newt] Gingrich or [Rick] Santorum.
When reached earlier this week by phone, Gingrich laughed at the possibility of returning as speaker. But he acknowledged that some House Republicans have “vented” to him over the course of the past year.