The events unfolding among House Republicans the past few weeks have been tragicomic in the extreme. Speaker of the House John Boehner announced his intention to resign after Pope Francis spoke with him. His likely successor, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, dropped out of the race after making comments praising the Benghazi special committee’s investigation effect on Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.
The next likely choice, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, shows little interest in running for the Speakership. Much of this chaos and unrest in the House is directly attributable to the uncompromising, combative nature of the so-called House Freedom Caucus, a coalition of far-right House Representatives. The Freedom Caucus must reject its fiery, obstructionist tactics and commit to governance in a two-party system. All Republicans should support Paul Ryan for Speaker and present a united front committed to responsible governance.
Paul Ryan is the obvious choice for Speaker. He is personally popular. He is very intelligent, essentially the intellectual leader of House conservatives. He has demonstrated a strong grasp of policy issues, especially fiscal and budgetary ones during his Chairmanship of the Budget and Ways and Means Committees. He is more interested in achieving pragmatic policy goals than engaging in partisan blustering.
Ryan has been willing to pursue bipartisan agreements with Democrats, expressing interest in immigration reform and securing a bipartisan budget deal in 2013 with Democratic Senator Patty Murray. He has consistently demonstrated a devotion to responsible and pragmatic conservative governance.
Paul Ryan, however, has always shown a greater interest in working on policy solutions in committees rather than engaging in the contentious politics of prestigious leadership positions. Given the state of the House Republicans, the Speakership looks to be an unfulfilling, demoralizing and thankless position. Ryan likely does not want to spend his days constantly trying to corral his party and fend off attacks from the Freedom Caucus. He would much rather keep his current position working on tax policy.
Ryan would probably only consider running for the Speakership if the whole party backed him without reservation. He would like to be a Speaker who leads a united and responsible governing party to tangible and pragmatic policy achievements, not one who merely tries to manage an intraparty civil war.
These are likely his conditions for running, and if the Freedom Caucus were more reasonable, they would meet them. However, many on the far right have criticized Paul Ryan for not being conservative enough. Breitbart has lambasted Ryan for being too soft on the immigration issue, an issue that the federal government must take action on and will certainly only be able to do through compromise.
Conservative site RedState has torn into Ryan for his fiscal compromises with Democrats. At the time of Ryan’s bipartisan budget compromise, 2013, Democrats controlled the Senate. No solutions to the budget conflicts were possible without bipartisan compromise. Yet these conservative news sites would seem to prefer continuous Congressional bickering and fiscal instability than a reasoned compromise with the opposing party. These arguments from the far right and the Freedom Caucus are too unyielding and stubborn-headed.
In our system of government, parties can only get everything they want when they have enough votes and one of their own sitting in the White House. When we have divided government, which is all too common based on our constitutional system, the parties must compromise. Early American history is largely the story of compromises and the forging of pragmatic solutions to the problems of government. Paul Ryan’s lack of partisan fervor and interest in achieving realistic policies that work should be celebrated, not denigrated.
Furthermore, Ryan is clearly a conservative, despite the claims of the far right. He has proposed massive entitlement reforms, including turning Medicare into essentially a voucher program, and has suggested large cuts in domestic programs. He is not Democrat Lite no matter how much his Republican opponents would like to paint him that way. Willingness to compromise when you do not have the votes does not betray conservatism; it is simply responsible governance.
The Freedom Caucus must recognize that they have a better chance of getting conservative principles enacted if they commit to governing, end the party infighting, and throw their wholehearted support behind he who may be the Republican Party’s greatest asset, Paul Ryan.
Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.