Love him or hate him, last night’s plea for unanimous caucus support was a shrewd win/win move for Ryan. If the Freedom Caucus caves to his demands, specifically his demand to “reform” the process by which the House can remove a sitting Speaker, great. He gets to be Speaker and the FC will have bowed to a guy whom talk radio is now treating as the biggest RINO this side of Mitch McConnell. See, e.g., this Erick Erickson post as an example of the beating the Freedom Caucus will take from grassroots righties if they back down. Ryan’s explicitly calling the bluff of House conservatives in demanding that they side with him despite the objections from the activists in their base. That’s not only a personal win for Ryan if they do, it’s a win for the mass of the GOP caucus that wants more cooperation from tea partiers.
If, as I expect, the Freedom Caucus decides they can’t afford to disappoint their strongest grassroots supporters by giving in to Ryan, that’s a win for him too. Then he gets to pass on a job that he clearly doesn’t want while the FC takes a beating in the media for rejecting all possible compromise choices. They can talk up Dan Webster all they want but the rest of the caucus isn’t about to vote for the Freedom Caucus’s guy after tea partiers just torpedoed an otherwise consensus choice in Ryan. We’re headed for deadlock and an extended reign for Boehner, and the FC will be blamed. Worse still, now that Ryan’s made an issue of neutering the House’s ability to oust the Speaker with a motion to vacate the chair, whoever replaces him in the Speaker race as the favored candidate of the center-right will probably insist on the same thing. Why wouldn’t they? Having used the threat of a motion to vacate to scare Boehner into resigning and then Ryan into passing on the job, the FC has given the next Speaker every reason to think he’d be on a short leash too. No one wants the job under those circumstances, with the Freedom Caucus emboldened, so the center-right’s candidates have every incentive to stand firm on Ryan’s demands.
Long story short, the FC is now in a position where they either endorse a candidate whom their core constituents don’t trust or they stand and fight with no obvious prospect of resolving a stalemate for which they’ll be blamed. That’s a bad hand. How will they play it?
“I got the sense that Paul Ryan was not willing to look at rule changes before October 29, and without that I don’t see him getting 80 percent [the threshold required for a Freedom Caucus endorsement],” one Freedom Caucus member said, referring to the expected date of the election for speaker…
Ryan has ruffled feathers within the group. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idado) said that getting rid of the “motion to vacate” procedure — which Boehner was confronted with over the summer, one of the factors in his decision to resign — is a “non-starter.”…
One Freedom Caucus who requested anonymity in order to speak freely was asked whether Ryan is setting up the group to be blamed if he ends up not running.
“You can certainly read it that way,” the lawmaker said.
One possible means of compromise suggested by Dan McLaughlin: If it’s immigration that the Freedom Caucus is most worried about with Ryan, maybe they could trade their right to bring a motion to vacate in return for a pledge from Ryan that he won’t move any immigration bills unless, say, 80 percent of the Republican caucus supports them. The motion to vacate the chair is a potentially powerful tool, but don’t forget that it’s only been used twice in the last hundred years and that Boehner’s tenure slogged on for four long years before any tea partiers in the House got serious about trying it. If Ryan does a crappy job as Speaker, the FC would have to wait only until January 2017 to punish him, by refusing as a bloc to vote for him during the next Speaker election when Congress’s new term begins. In fact, the next 15 months could be seen as a sort of probation period for Ryan as Speaker: It’s unthinkable that he’d blow up the party by moving an immigration bill before the election so the Freedom Caucus could endorse him now with the caveat that they reserve the right to revisit that recommendation depending upon what Speaker Ryan does and doesn’t promise vis-a-vis amnesty in 2017 and beyond. If Ryan’s not willing to make assurances about the border going forward, well, then the FC has 15 months to build a majority in the caucus for a Speaker who will. In the near term, Ryan’s almost certain to focus on initiatives, starting with tax reform, that are broadly acceptable to Republicans and can be sold to the public as part of the pitch for a Republican president. If we’re going to spend the next year arguing about fiscal priorities, we can do worse than have Paul Ryan as our chief spokesman.
But like I say, this isn’t about policy or electoral strategy at this point as much as it is about a test of wills between Ryan and the Freedom Caucus. Hard to see how the FC, which is supposed to be the right’s bulwark against RINOism in Congress, can cave.