Making Paul Ryan Speaker is the wrong answer to the wrong question

Some years ago, I was watching an interview with Paul Ryan and he said that one of the best pieces of advice he got was from liberal Democrat Barney Frank. Frank told Ryan to be a mile deep and not a mile wide. Making Ryan Speaker would force him to go from being a mile deep on issues where he is the Republican Party’s best representative, to being a mile wide on issues where he isn’t much better than your average GOP congressman.

And for what? Ryan would have enormous trouble unifying the House Republican Conference because of his position on immigration. It isn’t necessary for a Republican Speaker to share the opinion of the modal Republican on every issue, but immigration has become the proxy issue for all that separates Republican elites from the majority of Republican voters. Ryan’s support for upfront amnesty makes it difficult for him to heal that breach.

We need some mutual respect here. Ryan is a conviction politician and we should respect him enough to trust that he would not adopt a new set of immigration principles just so he can prosper as Speaker. Republican leaders should also have enough respect for their own voters to know that they Ryan brand won’t lull Republican voters into forgetting about the fissures within the center-right coalition.