Paul Ryan’s storybook rise to power in the House of Representatives has been met with resounding acceptance and excitement by his fellow Congressmen on The Hill. However, after losing every primary challenge in 2016, the conservative grassroots appears poised to channel their frustrations toward unseating the new Speaker of the House. Grassroots activists from around the country are hoping to invest one last burst of energy behind Paul Nehlen, a businessman and inventor from Delavan, Wisconsin, threatening to put an end to Speaker Ryan’s leadership before it begins.
Similar attempts were made against Texas Congressmen Kevin Brady, the new Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and Pete Sessions, the Chairman of the House Rules Committee. Both Congressmen survived their primaries, leaving the grassroots hungry for a prodigious victory akin to the Primary Heard Around the World in Virginia’s 7th District, when Dr. Dave Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
While Paul Ryan has become the face of the Republican Establishment in Washington D.C., his short record as Speaker more accurately reflects the birth of Newt Gingrich, as opposed to the reign of his friend and predecessor John Boehner.
Paul Ryan is the leading advocate for a policy agenda called A Better Way. “A Better Way” is a complex and exhaustive program aiming to mirror Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. Announced with great fanfare, A Better Way lapsed quickly into obscurity, overshadowed by one of the nastiest Republican Primaries in modern history. If you asked 100 Americans to summarize A Better Way, 100 Americans wouldn’t even be able to fake an answer.
Without any enthusiasm behind the Speaker’s legislative agenda (outside of Capital Hill), he is mired in a primary battle centered around issues every American can understand: jobs, immigration, and trade. Following in the footsteps of Donald Trump, Speaker Ryan’s opponent is hammering away at the narratives which propelled Trump to the Republican Nomination against one of the most talented fields of experienced Republican Candidates in a generation.
While polls show Paul Ryan with a sizable lead, anything is possible in this new age of dime store populism and utopian promises. To counter the threat of a primary defeat in his own district, Paul Ryan has endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy – an endorsement which failed to earn him the appreciation of Trump’s growing army of supporters, but which did earn him the disdain of Ryan’s more moderate base.
Republican Politics is quite the mess in 2016. For years the grassroots demanded a formidable legislative agenda packed with reforms. Ryan’s “A Better Way” is exactly that, but few members of the grassroots and conservative wing of the Republican Party are even remotely interested. This is what happens when trust is broken. This is what happens when even the thinnest hope and faith in the leaders of a party gives way to utter cynicism.
Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell could hold a press conference tomorrow indicated a legislative agenda that included everything the grassroots has fought for and not an ear would perk up. No one would believe it. It’s one thing when a longstanding Speaker of the House is challenged or loses the trust of the Republican Base. It’s something else entirely when a new Speaker takes the gavel and fails to be afforded even a moments excitement or opportunity to prove himself.
But… here we are.
Speaker Ryan will win his primary on August 9th, but I think his difficulties point to a larger predicament which will be waiting for all our Representatives after this Presidential Election is concluded in November.