WASHINGTON – The worst job in the world, it turns out, isn’t the U.S. presidency but speaker of the House of Representatives.
“It’s where you go to die,” as one veteran Hill watcher put it to me.
In the wake of majority leader Kevin McCarthy’s sudden withdrawal from his once-certain ascent to the speakership, several others are considering running for the job.
McCarthy’s fall wasn’t only owing to his verbal blunder suggesting that the House select committee investigating Benghazi was primarily created to bring down Hillary Clinton. Like speaker John Boehner, he was shafted by the three dozen or so members of the Freedom Caucus who promised a bloc vote in exchange for public pledges, which McCarthy (to his credit) refused to make.
He simply didn’t have enough votes.
By Friday, the hands-down favorite to take the spot was Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who vehemently has said he doesn’t want the job. Indeed, who in his or her right mind would want to walk into this seething ring of “winning” losers?
By Friday afternoon, a dogged Ryan was moving from an absolute ‘no’ to ‘possibly considering.’ He left the Capitol pursued by a swarm of reporters and photographers as if he’d just emerged from an intergalactic chrysalis bearing greetings from the Supreme Being instead of heading home to talk things over with his wife.
Objectively, Ryan is in every way the right choice for the party. For the past several years, he’s been the go-to guy for all matters budgetary. In 2010, when the GOP mantra was cut, cut, cut, few could articulate their preferences. Almost anyone you asked about cuts would answer, Ask Paul Ryan. He’s got it all figured out.
He was the wunderkind who could do – and speak – math. This is considered a marvel neighboring on miraculous given some notable public speaking deficits of late.
Ryan is also indisputably a good guy – likable, good-natured but tough, and a devoted family man who wears himself lightly – qualities we’ve come to recognize as exceptional in a world of angry ordinariness.
Poor Paul Ryan. It will take strength to resist his supporters’ call to duty – Ryan’s sweet spot. Editors of the conservative National Review were among those making this appeal, while also suggesting that Ryan would surely want to redefine the fundraising part – the demands of which leave little time for family.
This mention brings us to an important point apparently overlooked by the extortionist Freedom Caucus. They’ve booted two of their membership’s top three fundraisers with Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who lost his seat last year to a tea party candidate, and now have rejected the third, McCarthy. Not only have these three brought in the biggest hauls through their campaigns and PACS but they’ve also been the most generous – including to those who now smite them.
The freedom caucus’ own preferred choice for speaker, Florida Rep. Daniel Webster, has raised $5.6 million since his election in 2010 and shared just 2 percent of that amount, according to opensecrets.org, which monitors such things. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who picked up the speakership ball as soon as McCarthy fumbled, has raised just $3.4 million since 2008 and shared only 7 percent.
Compare this with McCarthy’s trove of $25.5 million since 2006, of which he shared 34 percent with party and colleagues.
The biggest and most generous fundraiser of all current House and Senate members, with the exceptions of Sens. John McCain and Lamar Alexander, both of whom ran for president, is – drum roll, please – John Boehner. Since 1989 when he received his first donations, Boehner has raised $97 million and given away $41.1 million.
Methinks those who protest way too much will miss the generosity of those they stabbed in the back. Ryan, meanwhile, would do well to let history guide him. No good deed goes unpunished with this crowd. Soon enough, the Freedom Caucus gang will make life miserable for the next speaker, and then what?
Whoever takes the job had best have no further aspirations. This isn’t to diminish the office, which is a noble position and no meager endgame. But few think Ryan has no higher aspirations. Thus, the question isn’t should he run for speaker but why should he?
If it helps, think of it as duty to the best use of his talents and, perhaps, to a higher calling.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.