Congressman Paul Ryan recently decided to run for Speaker of the House. A job he described as one he never originally wanted, or never sought. However, his change of mind came as a result of him coming to the conclusion in his words. “This is a very dire moment, not just for the Congress, not just for the Republican Party but for the country.” The GOP should unite around Mr. Ryan, and be very grateful that someone of his character, wisdom and foresight will be a Speaker of the House who can establish governing relevancy and credibility to the Party. He is the person for the moment for many reasons whether many in the GOP realize it or not. Mr. Ryan also deserves a chance to be listened to by the rest of the country as someone who can bring much needed leadership in a fractured Washington to get constructive things done.
In this presidential election cycle, he will play a crucial role in elevating the conservative brand and to bolster the chances that a Republican President will be elected next year. Mr. Ryan has exhibited that he understands this role and as Speaker. In an email to the Weekly Standard by his spokesman Brendan Buck he outlined that. “ Our next Speaker needs to be a visionary, more focused on communicating our agenda and laying out big ideas. Our next Speaker needs to use this platform to create a clear policy choice for the country”.
There is discontent within factions of the GOP that the current leadership of the party has not fought hard enough to accomplish certain priorities such as repealing Obamacare and stopping President Obama executive actions on immigration. This discontent has also radiated to the members of the GOP base who also share similar sentiments about the current GOP congressional leadership. Many of these sentiments are warranted. Before the GOP had majorities in the Senate, dozens of bills passed by the GOP led House were killed on arrival by Harry Reid in the then Democratic Party led Senate. There were high expectations by the party’s base that since the GOP now controls both chambers of Congress, President Obama’s liberal agenda would be significantly curbed.
While many credible arguments can be made that the GOP leadership has not fought hard enough to advance conservative values, three additional issues have simultaneously elevated anxiety among core members of the GOP and these issues are still affecting the party’s credibility going into elections next year. To address these issues Mr. Ryan’s record indicate that he could serve a vital role to alleviate them
First, many disappointments of the GOP by core voters were rooted in the unrealistic expectations promised by GOP members of Congress that they could completely stop the Obama agenda even though he was still president. As such, drastic measures for all or nothing approaches such as fully repealing ObamaCare did not materialize, and caused divisions within the party especially since President Obama could veto such efforts.
Second, while the GOP has made a name for itself of articulating credible arguments and efforts to stop President Obama’s policies, it has missed the opportunity to make a name for itself by presenting big bold alternatives to these major policies. This is not due to a shortage of conservative ideas being discussed or enacted in parts of various legislations. Many are discussed and proposed everyday by current GOP members of Congress, in op-eds, on websites, and by conservative think tanks. Most of the best states for growth and jobs are those who have already implemented conservative ideas of economic freedom and limited government. However, there have not been enough attempts to present a framework of bills and policy ideas in Congress that show what conservatives are for, and how they can benefit America by solving major issues.
For example, efforts to fully repeal Obamacare would have more leverage if there was a solid GOP alternative that Republicans in Congress have united around to replace it. It would also help give support to electing a Republican president next year. It is not enough anymore for the GOP that leads both branches of Congress to advocate repealing Obamacare without a cohesive and practical alternative.
The same goes for the other major issue of immigration. The GOP led House needs to present alternatives to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration while leading on a plan that addresses the opportunities and challenges for immigration in the 21st century. It also needs to present a practical plan for the millions of undocumented immigrants already here. My piece, ‘Thoughts From a Conservative Immigrant on Reforming Immigration’, specifically outlines measures in this regard.
Third, even though the GOP may seem divided, without much fanfare they have actually made accomplishments in Congress that the party has not communicated effectively to the broader public. This would have helped to uplift the perception of the conservative brand. Many GOP efforts have slowed the trajectory of spending and deficits that President Obama has taken credit for. The GOP led Congress has stopped President Obama from giving up U.S control of the internet to the influence of countries like Russia, China and other autocratic regimes. This alone could have been used to appeal particularly to younger voters. Despite repeated opposition from many Democrats and President Obama, the GOP led House was able to revive the Opportunity Scholarships school voucher program in Washington D.C which mostly helps poor and minority children to get a quality education. It now faces a chance of Democrats filibustering it in the Senate. The efforts by the GOP to save this program should be used to counter the Democrats who often purport in their narrative on inequality and how they are for the poor and minorities. In addition, efforts to lift the ban on U.S export of oil, (which has been rejected by President Obama), would not only have helped to lower gas prices even further, it would step the loss of jobs in the oil industry while allowing oil into the world market to be purchased by allies. It would also help to counter Russian and Iranian influence in the oil supply and their use of the profits from to undermine U.S interests. The GOP needs to learn how to be vocal in their accomplishments and justify their proposals the way Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer and others often do in front of the camera.
Paul Ryan has demonstrated why as Speaker of the House he could meet these challenges. In his decision to accept running for the position, one of the first things he said was that he intends to lead in moving the party from an opposition party to a proposition party. A crucial step if the GOP wants to make itself relevant as a governing alternative. In acknowledging that as a father of a young family he won’t be able to travel as much as previous Speakers, he explained that “ less time on the road can be compensated for with a greater focus on communicating our message to the public”.
Mr. Ryan, (a protégé of the Jack Kemp who was one of the founders of the modern growth wing of the GOP along with Ronald Reagan) has exhibited abilities to propose big ideas and translate them into policy. Before the Tea Party movement Paul Ryan pushed budget and tax reforms. In 2008 he proposed Roadmap of America’s Future. In 2011 he presented Path for Prosperity as a budget plan and he also played a major role in drafting ‘Cut Cap and Balance’ which was designed to provide the necessary real cuts to meet the credit rating agency’s requirements (over $4 trillion) in order to avoid the then pending U.S credit downgrade. This measure was passed by the GOP led House, however the Senate at the time led by Democrats refused to bring it up for discussion. Subsequently the U.S for the first time had its first credit rating downgrade. Cut Cap and Balance had measures to achieve a balanced budget and with cuts over $5 trillion over 10yrs, plus it had a 66% approval rating by Americans in a poll. In addition, according to S&P the budget passed that year by the House had restraints in the growth of entitlements the credit rating agency and most other independent observers believed would help lead the U.S to long-term fiscal sustainability. Despite the assertion by Democrats that the Ryan bill would have decimated Medicare, it actually would have reformed it so it survives at a lower cost projection rather than allowing it to go bankrupt while hiking the debt the way it is now. Also, the Ryan bill aimed to end corporate welfare and close loop holes and make more wealthy people pay more towards Medicare.
Going into the next year, Democrats in Congress will unite around their causes and eventual presidential nominee the same way they acted in unison when they led both chambers of Congress. The GOP has a short window to do the same if Mr. Ryan is confirmed as speaker. He combines the vision, tactical know how and pragmatism to lead on a conservative agenda that can achieve a lot more than a circular firing squad in the GOP could ever do.
This is a dire moment in America’s political history that will decide if we go down a path towards socialism or revived by economic freedom. Hopefully, Mr. Ryan will have support both in the House and the Senate to ensure we go the path of the latter. Unfortunately, his biggest challenge might be from the same people who give Donald Trump a pass on having to meet the requirements of a strict conservative litmus test, but will scrutinize Mr. Ryan’s every move to see if he meets their idea of conservative purity.