Wait, why would Trump support the ousting of a guy who’s been a loyal servant to him in Congress? Oh, right:
— Colin Wilhelm (@colinwilhelm) April 12, 2018
Haley Byrd says the buzzards are circling:
Top Republicans in Congress and the White House have in recent days entertained a plan to push House Speaker Paul Ryan out of his post over the summer, in an effort to clear the way for his presumed successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to assume the speakership.
A source involved in the conversations and who has discussed the idea with President Donald Trump told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that Trump believes there is merit to the plan, but has not formed a final position. McCarthy has been weighing the effort alongside a small group of trusted advisers, considering the pros and cons of forcing Ryan’s hand, and debating the best time to launch the effort. As of last week he had not spoken to Ryan about the idea, the source said.
Nothing surprising about that. No sooner had Ryan announced his retirement at the end of this term last month than grumblings from inside the caucus (almost certainly from peopled allied with McCarthy, if not from the man himself) began appearing in news stories about how the GOP couldn’t sustain the new arrangement for long. “Members won’t follow a lame duck, he’ll have no leverage to cut deals, and the last thing they need in this environment is 6 months of palace intrigue and everyone stabbing everyone else in the back,” said one source to Axios of Ryan’s delayed exit. Another Republican predicted that he’d be gone by the end of the July, a timetable that seems newly prescient. Donors weren’t thrilled with the idea of Ryan lingering for months either: “As a donor, would I ever give him a dollar if he’s not going to stay around? F*** no…. We need someone with skin in the game who actually cares about the majority.”
The fear is that there is no fear of Ryan anymore now that House Republicans know they no longer need to worry about defying him. There are signs of that everywhere right now — the farm bill crashed and burned in humiliating fashion on Friday and centrist House Republicans seem poised to embarrass Ryan by presenting a discharge petition to force a vote on legalizing DACA enrollees. The coup plotters believe ushering Ryan out and McCarthy in will restore some discipline, since McCarthy’s likely to be in charge next year. But there’s another reason to force a vote on a new Speaker, notes Byrd:
[I]t would also force Democrats to cast votes for — or against — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a favorite target of Republican campaign strategists, to be speaker. That vote could then be used against vulnerable Democrats during the height of campaign season, the source said.
That’s a matter of “heads I win, tails you lose” for the GOP. Any Democrat who votes for Pelosi is generating an attack ad against him or herself this fall. Any Democrat who votes against her provides kindling for a new round of “Tensions over Dem leadership”/”When will Nancy go?” coverage in political media.
This is really all about McCarthy, though. He’s a heavy favorite to succeed Ryan as caucus leader but has two formidable rivals in Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan. The sooner Ryan leaves, the less time the latter two have to prepare a leadership challenge next year. McCarthy will ascend immediately via “next in line” reasoning and will be all but impossible to dislodge. McCarthy’s also been shrewd about cultivating a friendship with Trump as an insurance policy for his promotion just in case Scalise or Jordan gets any ideas. And don’t forget that the GOP’s made strides in the polls over the past month since Ryan announced he was leaving. A month ago, it looked like McCarthy et al. would be battling to see who gets to be minority leader next year. Now there’s a possibility that Ryan’s successor as head of the caucus will be Speaker himself. Hence the new urgency by McCarthy to move him out and gain a foothold of incumbency, just in case the expected blue wave this fall doesn’t gather.
Supposedly Ryan is reluctant to step down early because it’ll distract the party from the midterms and potentially trigger a civil war within the caucus. Eh. That’s why Trump is being pitched on the coup plan now: If he announces that McCarthy should be the guy, it’ll short-circuit any serious insurrection. And it’s not like there’s any important yet delicate legislation that has a chance of passing before November that a leadership change might imperil. Ryan supposedly has some dim hope of passing a DACA fix if that discharge petition forces an immigration vote, but I’m not sure why. Does he actually think Senate Republicans are going to roll the dice on even a limited amnesty five months out from a national election? (McCarthy is reportedly against a DACA compromise for that very reason, that the chance that Republican voters will revolt is too great a risk.)
A parting “be careful what you wish for” thought. If Ryan bailed out now and McCarthy became Speaker, he’d be at ground zero of the blast zone if Mueller turned around this summer and dropped an obstruction-of-justice nuke on Trump. Suddenly it’d be up to Kevin McCarthy, Trump crony, to decide what to do about it. That’d be great news for Trump — as loyal as Ryan has been to him, McCarthy is even more loyal. But it’d be a no-win political nightmare for McCarthy, forced to decide whether to discipline Trump somehow (impeachment seems unimaginable) and infuriate populist GOPers or to shrug the whole thing off and infuriate everyone else. If he mishandles it, not only might the party get pounded in November, he might face a serious leadership challenge in the lame-duck session after all.