Stu Rothenberg and I have been working together for nearly 15 years and any acute political instincts I’ve developed I owe to him. In many ways, we’ve morphed into the same mind, including our valuations of players in fantasy baseball. But after reading Stu’s latest column, “Ryan Rides to the Rescue — But Not Until 2020, ” I had a different perspective.
After talking with a veteran GOP strategist, Stu laid out a very plausible scenario that involves House Speaker Paul D. Ryan effectively becoming the leader of the Republican Party after the GOP suffers heavy losses in the 2016 elections. The new role would culminate in him becoming the party’s presidential nominee in 2020.
“If November’s elections are as messy for the GOP as they now appear, with Republicans failing once again to win the White House and also losing their Senate majority, Ryan would almost certainly become his party’s de facto leader.” Stu wrote. “And that would offer him both opportunities and challenges after the election.”
My problem with the scenario is that there is no guarantee Ryan will be speaker next year, even if Republicans hold the majority in the House.
I was shocked at how relatively easy he won the gavel before Christmas 2015 amid the party’s civil war, including the ongoing dispute between party leadership and the anti-establishment House Freedom Caucus .
[Related: Republicans Looking for a Way to 'Yes'] But if Republicans lose a couple dozen seats in the House, those losses will likely come disproportionately from mainstream members in competitive districts (as Stu mentions). And some retiring members could be replaced by likely new members of the Freedom Caucus, such as in New York’s 22nd District .
So while the Freedom Caucus may not increase in number, its influence could grow proportionally within the smaller GOP conference and make it more difficult for Ryan to retain his current post.
If Ryan can’t keep the party together in order to get re-elected speaker, it’s hard to see how he brings the greater party together to be the presidential nominee.
[Related: Paul Ryan Is Campaigning ... But For What?] It’s certainly possible that Ryan keeps his coalition intact and conferencing together for the next Congress. But a lot will depend on what lessons Republicans learn from the 2016 losses and whether there is a belief that the GOP should shift in a radically different direction .
And it will depend on whether Ryan is even interested in leading what could be a recovery effort of a major political party.
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