Politics & Policy

Conservative Activists Target Paul Ryan

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) hasn’t yet agreed to take the speaker’s gavel, and some conservative activists want to keep it that way.

ForAmerica’s Brent Bozell issued a preemptive denunciation of Ryan on Monday. “How can someone with an ‘F’ conservative rating (Conservative Review) be acceptable to conservatives?” he said in a statement to National Review. “Paul Ryan came to Washington with such promise and has been a huge disappointment. At every turn he has done the bidding of John Boehner. He hasn’t taken a principled stand on a single thing of importance. He is just more of the same, sadly.”

That marks a reversal from the halcyon days of 2011, when Bozell and a chorus of other conservatives attacked then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for criticizing Ryan’s proposed budgetary reforms. “Is the Ryan plan perfect? No — but it is serious, and it is bold, and it is courageous, and it would reverse the slide to economic ruin and socialism set by President Obama,” Bozell said at the time. “Paul Ryan deserves the highest applause from conservatives, but rather than acknowledge that, he is busy pulling the arrows from his back.”

Ryan’s decline in the eyes of such conservative activists forms part of his rationale for turning down a run for speaker, according to a lawmaker who has spoken to him in the last few days. Ryan has passed on making bids for leadership repeatedly before, but he has signaled a willingness to consider running for speaker in the wake of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal — if he was a true consensus choice. Otherwise, he’d prefer to stay in his current job and develop entitlement-reform legislation that a prospective Republican president could sign into law in 2017 — perhaps returning him to his all-star status among the grassroots in the process.

#share#Ryan is still “the gold standard” for conservatives who don’t live and die by the beltway news cycle, according to one House Republican. But “in 30 days, Paul knows that that constant [criticism] will cause those people to have a different view of [him].”

He is already receiving a preview of that criticism. The Drudge Report gave pride-of-place over the weekend to a Breitbart News piece criticizing him. Long-time conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said he’d be “the same type of leader as outgoing Speaker Boehner.” And RedState’s Erick Erickson described him as a “dangerous pick” because he “will give the veneer of conservatism to whatever he touches.”

#related#Such statements suggest that there’s a constituency ready to reward rank-and-file lawmakers who oppose Ryan, perhaps complicating his effort to achieve and maintain the unity he desires should he take over as speaker.

“He’s getting enormous pressure to ‘take one for the team’ and I’m afraid today that there’s no taking one,” says the House Republican. “It’s the [political] equivalent of having B-52s come overhead, about to drop bombs, and you dive on the grenade. . . . You didn’t save any lives; the problem out-scoped your capacity to protect.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated since its original publication.

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