Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Conservative Chairman of the House Budget Committee and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s running mate in the recent Presidential Election you may have heard about, endorsed her opponent in the bid for House GOP Conference Chair, the #4 position in Republican leadership in the House of Representatives. Since early 2010, Congressman Ryan was recognized as a rising star in the Republican Party, a disciplined voice for a more-Conservative Republican Party, author of “the Plan” that would take the Federal Government in a more-austere direction and streamline the Federal tax code, making it fairer and friendlier to business. When Governor Romney nominated Ryan to serve as his running mate in mid-August of this year, this decision represented an unambiguous doubling-down on the moderate Governor’s strategy of courting his party’s Conservative base ahead of the Election. While this decision may have been clever from a Congressional cat-herding perspective (removing a potential articulate center of ideological opposition from the House if he were to win the election), it did not produce a ticket with broad appeal: 2 white and male scions of aristocratic families from States neither could really hope to deliver in the election, 1 of them a pretty-solid Conservative and the other a decent imitation of a Conservative. In any case, Congressman Ryan’s role as an heir-apparent in top-level Republican leadership seemed all-but-assured following his place on the 2012 Presidential ticket.
But all is not well in the Republican Party–and that circumstance implicates its recent ideological leadership. After President Obama’s fairly-solid re-election win, a net 2 seats lost in the US Senate, a projected net 8 seats lost in the House of Representatives after an ostensibly-favorable round of redistricting, a weaker-than-expected performance in gubernatorial races nationwide, a loss of several State Legislatures and surprising support for tax increases and social Liberalism in numerous State ballot initiatives this year, the Republican establishment has its case for pushing back against the previously-triumphalist Conservatives elected in the Republican wave year of 2010. A comparatively-moderate Conservative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), initially considered an easy win for the position of House GOP Conference Chair, had to fight for it after Congressman Ryan endorsed Tom Price (R-GA), an honest-to-God Conservative, in his come-from-behind bid for the role.
Nevertheless, McMorris Rodgers beat the insurgent candidate–no irrelevant feat considering the 87-strong Class of 2010 House Republicans were at least as Conservative as the 179-member rump House Republican Conference from the 111th Congress, meaning that the outgoing Republican Conference is both the largest and the most-Conservative in generations. This wasn’t necessarily a fair fight for Ryan; the House Republican leadership had already presumed upon (though not endorsed) McMorris Rodgers, and Ryan gave Congressman Price his endorsement late. But after 2 years of political setbacks and radical but failed policy initiatives in the House and primary upsets by Conservative challengers depriving them of as many as 10 seats in the Senate, the “Tea Party”-brand Republicans may finally be ready to abandon their fantasy of some final victory just around the corner. (Spoiler alert: This final victory isn’t coming.) The truth is, Congressman Ryan’s coherent but ideological vision (which in fairness was articulated with grace and respect) hasn’t profited the Republicans much more than Mayor Palin’s uninformed and emotive rhetoric (which in fairness revealed her as unbalanced and self-involved to anyone who cared enough to pass judgment).
Cathy McMorris Rodgers was certainly preferred by the party from a political-optics perspective; she is the only woman in top-tier House Republican leadership, and the House Democratic Caucus currently has about twice as many women as the House Republican Conference. Governor Romney’s failure to run competitively among women overall in the Presidential Election, particularly among single women, is already well-documented. Ms. McMorris Rodgers was the House liason for the Romney campaign. Considering the wide presumption of her succession of Jeb Hensarling, who is moving to the House Finance Committee, as GOP Conference Chair, it may be indicative of Speaker Boehner’s trepidation in dictating too many terms to the rank-and-file that he didn’t formally endorse her; Congressman Ryan, however, came out with the abrupt endorsement of Congressman Price.
But now it seems it’s the Conservatives in the Republican Party who have overestimated their strength. The GOP establishment is fighting back. There’s nothing like unexpected and dramatic failure to put a damper on unwelcome and uncalled-for innovation.