Ryan speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas, May 16, 2014.
Rick Wilking/Reuters

Paul Ryan stumbles towards success

It was just last week that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), after rebuffing overtures, told his House Republican colleagues that he would run for Speaker of the House, “but only if they embrace him … as their consensus candidate.”
One could certainly make the argument today that this condition does not appear to have been met.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin cleared the first major hurdle to becoming House speaker, winning his party’s closed-door nomination for the high-profile position on Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan received 200 votes compared to Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida’s 43.
The secret-ballot election – we’ll never know for sure who voted for whom – also included one vote each for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
Today’s results almost certainly won’t derail Paul Ryan’s promotion, but the 200-vote tally hardly meets his stated goal of being a “consensus candidate.” On the contrary, nearly one-fifth of the House Republican conference supported someone else.
It takes 218 votes on the floor to become Speaker – a threshold the Wisconsin congressman is very likely to cross tomorrow – and Ryan hoped to get at least 218 votes today. Instead, he didn’t come particularly close.
Ryan will need at least 18 members who voted against him today to support him tomorrow. That shouldn’t much of be a problem, but the point is, Ryan said last week that he’d only pursue the office if his party, en masse, rallied behind him. By some measures, that hasn’t actually happened.
Put it this way: when Kevin McCarthy wasn’t sure if he could get 218 votes from his own GOP colleagues, he quit. In fact, he’d never admit it publicly, but I wonder if McCarthy is grumbling to himself this afternoon, “Heck, even I could have gotten 200 votes….”
What’s more, this isn’t the only example of Ryan stumbling towards success. Last week, the Wisconsinite said he’d only move forward with his campaign for Speaker if he received an endorsement from the House Freedom Caucus. The House Freedom Caucus balked, at which point Ryan quietly moved the goalposts.
For that matter, Ryan also said one of his conditions was an agreement that the House would gut the “vacate the chair” rule. Members have agreed to no such change, and yet, Ryan is moving forward with his plans anyway.
In other words, what we’re witnessing is a GOP leader who went from making demands to making concessions with incredible speed.
Just so we’re clear, I don’t really doubt that Paul Ryan will be elected Speaker tomorrow. But he clearly had a vision in mind about how this process was supposed to unfold, and it’s not unreasonable to notice that Ryan is stumbling across the finish line.