This primary season will be one for the history books. The House of Bush has fallen to a bombastic TV-star businessman with no political experience. A neurosurgeon — who makes watching paint dry seem interesting — has surpassed well-known governors in the polls. And a little-known senator from Vermont has proven to be a formidable opponent to the mighty Hillary Clinton. With 15 major candidates left in the race for the presidency, there has been non-stop speculation as we play out all the possibilities. However, there is one charismatic congressman that people have forgotten. His name? Paul D. Ryan.
First, some backstory:
After Speaker John Boehner abruptly announced his resignation, the heir to the throne, Kevin McCarthy, seemed like a sure bet. He had been a loyal Republican and paid his dues. That all changed once people started to listen to him, and he admitted that the House Committee on Benghazi was a political operation designed to ruin Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. It also didn’t help when there were beltway murmurings that he was having an affair with a congresswoman. One fateful morning, he withdrew his candidacy for speaker, and the House fell into chaos.
Fortunately, there was a savior. Ryan had to be convinced, but he reluctantly agreed to run for Speaker of the House. He was able to unite both the moderate and most conservative parts of the House Republican caucus, and he was the only one who could do it. As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, he drafted budgets that both his moderate and conservative colleagues gushed over. He was especially fortunate when Boehner oversaw the renewal of the Export-Import Bank and worked with the president on a new budget — two issues that deeply divided the Republican Conference and enraged the tea party wing. By addressing these issues in the eleventh hour of his term, Speaker Boehner was able to give Ryan a fresh slate. Since then, Speaker Ryan has successfully brought a bill that repeals Obamacare to the President’s desk for the first time. Moreover, he has spent the past few weeks discussing ways to transform the Republican party into a more positive, policy-oriented party. The Speaker’s first few months on the job have been smooth, which is an accomplishment given the vast ideological spectrum of the House Republicans.
Back to the presidential race. At this point, Senator Rubio, Senator Cruz and Mr. Trump are the three candidates most likely to win the nomination according to online betting markets and political prediction websites. However, there is a sizeable chance that all three of them, in conjunction with perhaps a few other candidates, will split the vote, and no one will have a majority in time for the 2016 Republican National Convention when the party officially selects its presidential and vice presidential nominees. This outcome is more likely than it was in prior years because Rubio, Cruz and Trump appeal to different bases and will likely stay in the race if it becomes increasingly clear that no one will get a majority. Moreover, this year, more states are mandated to use a proportional allocation when distributing delegates compared to the “winner take all” system. This will enable candidates who finish in second or third in a state to still receive delegates. In the event that no candidate has a majority on the first round of voting, there will be a brokered convention. This allows delegates who were obligated to vote for a candidate to vote for whomever they want on the subsequent rounds of voting.
This is where Paul Ryan comes in. After a nasty primary battle, delegates may be so opposed to voting for their prefered candidate’s opponents that they may refuse to ever consider voting for them. To unify the party, Paul Ryan could announce his candidacy and delegates would swarm around him as the best alternative to their prefered candidate. Also, delegates would see the strategic value of nominating someone who can unite the party and someone who has also not shed any blood during the primary. As the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012, he already has experience on the campaign trail. Finally, Paul Ryan wants to be President; the first and only Speaker of the House elected President was James Polk in 1845. This is his only shot because as he remains Speaker for a longer period of time he will become more unpopular and make more enemies as he has to address controversial issues. This is his last chance, and he might take it.
Perhaps a Republican candidate will solidify support early on in the primary, and this will turn into an incredibly short primary season for the Republicans. Perhaps a brokered convention will lead to a deal between two candidates, and Paul Ryan will not get the chance to throw his hat in the ring. However, nothing is for certain in this primary. Paul Ryan may be the GOP nominee, and Democrats should be prepared for him to win the nomination.
Contact Matthew Jonathan Cohen at mcohen18 ‘at’ stanford.edu.