Paul Ryan wants you to know he’s not in the running to be president, and it’s not like when the Speaker of the House assured the public he wasn’t in the running to be Speaker of the House.
This time he wants you to know he means it.
That’s why he’s been putting out shiny, overly produced, campaign-style videos on foreign policy and giving flag draped speeches about the “common humanity” that should unify the Republican Party and the nation?
Nevermind that. This time he means it.
“We have too much work to do in the House to allow this speculation to swirl or to have my motivations questioned. So let me be clear: I do not want, nor will I accept, the nomination for our party,” Ryan told a room brimming with reporters at the Republican National Committee’s Capitol Hill headquarters.
(We’ll come back to the work Ryan wants to (and has failed to) get done in the House later.)
His forceful non-presidential announcement itself turned some heads on Capitol Hill.
“Was he in the running [at] the convention?” asked Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) when The Daily Beast informed him of Ryan’s press conference. “From Paul and from my friends in the House, I have had no one ever confirm the fact that he ever had any interest.”
The news that Ryan’s taken his name out of the running, by some accounts for the 19th time now, hit more moderate Republicans like a punch in the gut as they survey the GOP field that is dominated by reality TV star Donald Trump and conservative bomb-throwing Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“That’s too bad. He was never pushing the talk – it was others,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), admitting that he was one of those on the Hill prodding Ryan to allow his name to be offered on the convention floor in Cleveland. “Paul Ryan would be great for the party and he could certainly win. I’ve known him for years and he’s a good conservative.”
But we’ve heard Ryan take his name out of the running for Speaker, only to offer it and be handed the most coveted gavel on Capitol Hill.
How different will this really be?
“Those are apples and oranges. Being Speaker of the House is a far cry from being President of the United States, specifically because I was already in the House; I’m already a congressman,” Ryan argued as progressive activists protested outside. “I was asked by my colleagues to take a responsibility within Congress that I’ve already been serving in from the one that I had. That is entirely different than getting the nomination for President of the United States by your party, without even running for the job.”
In fairness, his current job, that he didn’t want, isn’t going that great.
As Speaker, the numbers wonk has failed to unite the conservative wing of his party. Take this year’s budget battle, which Ryan seems to have lost.
Ryan was propelled to Republican fame during his tenure as chairman of the Budget Committee where he offered aggressive proposals to cut the social safety net and restructure entitlements, like Medicare. While that made him the whipping boy of progressives, it earned him the GOP’s vice presidential nomination in 2012.
After that failed campaign, he returned to the House as the Ways and Means chairman - not as prestigious as the veep spot but that’s where tax policy is written, so powerful nonetheless.
When he was elected speaker, he vowed to use his new perch atop the House to show the American people that conservatives can govern by passing a spending blueprint by Tax Day.
That deadline is just days away. And the tea party wing of the House revolted - as they are known to do - and it seems the lower chamber will fail to even pass a budget.
Thus instead holding a press conference showing a united Republican Party, budget in hand, he was forced to insert himself into presidential politics and beg convention delegates to stay in line and stop loving him so much.
“If no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, I believe that you should only choose from a person who has actually participated in the primary. Count me out,” Ryan added. “If you want to be the nominee for our party, to be the president, you should actually run for it.”
Many conservatives argue it would be better for Speaker Ryan’s future to focus on governing the House, instead of jumping into the crazy world of Election 2016.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told The Daily Beast. “Being Speaker of the House, it’s an extremely difficult and challenging job, and he has the ability to be successful at that. I would just ask, but I think his problems will be greater if he’s not in the mainstream of Republican voters on big questions like trade and immigration.”
Sessions, who has endorsed Trump, added it would be unfair to millions of conservative primary voters for Ryan or another GOP leader to orchestrate a twelfth hour takeover at the convention.
“A lot of people have spoken at these elections. American people are not happy with the establishment of the Republican Party,” said Sessions. “And I guess the Speaker of the House would have to be classified as part of the establishment, right? So it would be hard to make that move—to go from a Ted Cruz and a Donald Trump to somebody who symbolizes the business as usual.”