An incidental effect of the Romney campaign was to help cement staff-level relations between the two. Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, served as Ryan’s senior press aide on the campaign trail, and Conor Sweeney, Ryan’s spokesman, spent months traveling to swing states with Steel and Boehner aide Brendan Buck, who also served as a Ryan campaign adviser. The Boehner and Ryan staffs communicate daily about the latest news, hoping to project a united Republican front.
There have been some minor bumps along the way, such as last month’s race for conference chairman, which is the fourth-ranking spot in the House Republican hierarchy. Representative Tom Price (R., Ga.), Ryan’s friend, lost his bid against Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), a Boehner protégé. But Boehner sources point out that this disagreement doesn’t amount to much, since Ryan pledged months ago to back Price.
Where Ryan will land on a fiscal-cliff agreement, should one be struck, is unclear, but his ties to Boehner will be a factor regardless. If the deal includes tax-rate hikes, Ryan will have a tough choice to make, since conservatives (and future primary voters) would look unfavorably upon them. But if a deal were to include enough entitlement reforms or spending cuts, House insiders think he’d probably support Boehner and make the case to conservatives that the House GOP cut the best possible deal.
Ryan and Boehner don’t socialize together, but they are now effectively partners. How long this partnership lasts, and how long Ryan stays relatively mum, is another question. For now, it’s a sign that Boehner negotiates with real conservative weight behind him. There are rumors of conservative discontent, and possible challenges to the speaker, but when it comes to Ryan, Boehner has an ally, not a foe.
— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor.