John Boehner doesn’t want it. Kevin McCarthy took a pass. And now, some Republicans believe, Paul Ryan is the only one who can save them from themselves.
McCarthy shocked the Republican Conference on Thursday with an abrupt departure from the race to be speaker of the House, sending the party into a tailspin. With a shortage of viable candidates that could unify a disparate group of unwieldy lawmakers, they may have to conscript Ryan into service.
Ryan must have sensed he would be pressured. Within 30 minutes of the news that McCarthy had vacated the race, the former vice presidential nominee preemptively put out a statement declaring that he would not run.
“While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate,” Ryan said.
After all, Ryan has lots of reasons for ducking the speaker post.
He has his dream job of Ways and Means chairman, where he can dive into tax policy nitty gritty all day without having to deal with the political sniping that is a part the top leadership positions.
Also, there’s Ryan’s family. He returns home to Janesville, Wisconsin, every weekend to spend time with his young children and his wife, Janna.
“This is a job for an empty nester,” Ryan told reporters shortly after Boehner announced his plan to step aside.
But on Thursday it was clear that his fans were not taking no for an answer.
As members voted on an unrelated matter, friendly Republicans swarmed Ryan on the House floor. After the final vote series of the day, Ryan camped out in a front-row seat of the House floor, holding court. A stream of allies chatted him up, including Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Bill Huizenga. Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky also stopped by for a serious-looking conversation, and after he left, Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina tapped in to speak with Ryan too. It didn’t look like the Janesville native had much time to himself—he was never not in demand.
But when the members who had spoken to Ryan emerged from the House chamber, they were cryptic.
“You cannot sell someone on this, you have to persuade them. And the people who persuade you the most in life are people who you think have your best interests in mind. So that’s why you talk to friends,” Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said, a little bit mysteriously. “You have to have a frank, honest conversation about where he is in life and what the expectations for that job are right now.”
“He’s seen as an individual who has broad support across the entire conference. He’s a clear thinker and great communicator,” said Rep. Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee. He had spoken to Ryan on the House floor, too, but declined to say what they discussed.
“I think he’d make a great speaker,” Price said.
One of Ryan’s objections to running for speaker may be the unique demands of the job.
“He’s got small kids. He’s a family guy. He goes home every weekend. And that job is really, really tough and very demanding,” Gowdy said.
Speaking of Gowdy, some members of the conference see him as a potential Boehner heir. But he isn’t getting near the lobbying deluge that’s swamping Ryan.
Besides those two, nearly a half-dozen other members are contemplating or being courted for the post. They include Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, who has drawn attention but been coy thus far about his ambitions. Price—who was competing to be the next majority leader until McCarthy decided to stay put in that spot—has also fielded numerous requests that he aim for the speakership, according to a person close to the Georgia Republican. Rep. Roger Williams of Texas said he would even think about going out for the gig—a possibility we didn’t hear boosted by anyone else—because he thinks the next speaker should be from Texas.
Not to mention the two original McCarthy challengers, Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Daniel Webster—who both reiterated today that they are as serious as ever about winning Congress’s top job.
Webster noted that he might have to stop taking the Metro to work if he wins (he’s one of a handful of members that regularly braves the perils of WMATA). And Chaffetz said that while McCarthy’s decision to bow out caught him quite off guard, it didn’t change his plans.
So though there are plenty of options, there are far fewer genuinely competitive ones. One senior Republican aide told The Daily Beast that only Gowdy and Ryan could muster the 218 votes necessary to win the speakership contest. The aide described Ryan’s protestations as a temporary hurdle.
Rep. Devin Nunes told a BuzzFeed reporter that he’s ride-or-die for Ryan—that the Wisconsinite is “the only path forward at this point.”
McCarthy said he dropped out because he wouldn’t have unified the Republican Conference—he told the press that he didn’t think he could get the full support of the group, something that Ryan allies immediately seized on.
“If Paul Ryan wanted to run, I believe he could secure 218 Republican votes,” a gobsmacked Rep. Charlie Dent said Thursday, minutes after learning that McCarthy wouldn’t be running.
Even McCarthy himself seems to hold that view.
“I personally want Paul Ryan,” he told the National Review a few hours after making his astounding announcement.
He added that he was confident the caucus would find someone, but wasn’t sure exactly how that would come to pass or how effective that next person would be.
“Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom,” he said.
A Ryan spokesman made the rounds during late-afternoon votes Thursday, circling the House floor, attracting reporters but repelling their questions. The spokesman had no comment on Ryan’s conversations with colleagues.
As members of Congress came to votes, the halls were a-chatter with talk of the McCarthy news. One lawmaker bounded up the Capitol steps, bursting into the House of Representatives building. “Anyone in here 25? We’re looking for a Speaker!” said the congressman.
Outside the Capitol, between the House of Representatives and the member offices, a scraggly, unkempt man with a worn-out baseball cap and scraggly beard held a homemade sign urging that lawmakers make him speaker.
“I actually want the job,” the sign reads.