First of all, let’s not shed any tears over the fall of Kevin McCarthy. Though the Republican majority leader is well-liked by his colleagues, he seems to have even less of a vision for where the GOP should go than the famously visionless John Boehner. If McCarthy has ever had a deep thought on how Republicans ought to position themselves in the post-Obama era, or the public policy goals the party should champion, he’s done an impressive job of concealing it from the public. McCarthy’s lack of vision could be forgiven if he were a masterful legislative strategist capable of implementing someone else’s vision, but again, there is no evidence that this in fact the case. Can you imagine McCarthy rallying Republicans around strengthening Congress, an institution that has grown dangerously weak as executive power has grown under Presidents Bush and Obama? Does he know enough about the basics of the federal budget process to get Republicans to try to fix it? Don’t make me laugh.
Nevertheless, McCarthy’s departure from the race for speaker hasn’t led to a collective sigh of relief among Republicans. That’s because everyone is wondering if any Republican can get elected speaker on the strength of Republican votes alone, given the obstreperousness of the House Freedom Caucus, the very same rebels who drove Speaker Boehner to resign. The GOP smart set is hoping that Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and Mitt Romney’s erstwhile running mate, will ride to the rescue. Ramesh Ponnuru, writing in Bloomberg View, makes a strong case that Ryan is the most logical choice for speaker, as he is one of relatively few Republicans in the House with a strong command of policy detail, long experience of legislative deal-making, and a rock-solid reputation for conservative ideological commitment. But even Ryan has his vulnerabilities. Some conservatives, like the influential Erick Erickson, insist that Ryan is not as conservative as you might think, in light of his support for TARP, No Child Left Behind, and other bipartisan measures that are loathed on the right. There are no doubt members of the House Freedom Caucus who agree with Erickson and who will put up a fight should Ryan enter the race.