Is Paul Ryan too much of a chameleon to be Speaker?

On the one hand, Ryan’s combination of ideological zeal, policy creativity, pragmatism, and salesmanship make him very attractive as a speaker. But conservatives may be right to be wary.

The total record suggests that Ryan’s conservatism becomes purer and more idealistic only when the ability to implement policy drops to zero, i.e. under a Democratic administration, or when stuffing Christmas stockings to interns. When a Republican is in the White House, Ryan is suddenly more aware of the political costs of uncompromising principle. Ryan puts the ideas out there and gets credit for seriousness, even if it does some damage to his party’s reputation. But when the rubber hits the road, Ryan’s the rubber stamp in the hands of a compromised Republican administration.

And the speaker’s job is difficult beyond that. Boehner was a hard worker on behalf of the conference and a good fund-raiser. Ryan’s conditions include an exemption from fund-raising, which means he is demanding a pledge of fealty to him while intending to do none of the grunt work. Instead of keeping the party united through sheer effort, Ryan seems to wish to achieve this by sheer high regard.