Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans got nothing—except some historic disapproval numbers and a lot of internal backbiting—from the whole shutdown showdown.
But there are different Republicans, with different intentions, and not all of them were frowning as the week of their party’s public shame came to a conclusion.
It is certainly true that Texas Senator Ted Cruz has become a political punch line—the Canadian-born Republican whom Democrats would most like to see the Grand Old Party nominate for president. House Speaker John Boehner’s name is likely to enter the lexicon as an antonym for “leadership.” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is going to be spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the term “Kentucky kickback.” And it may even be dawning on the Tea Partisans that the whole “defund Obamacare” gambit was a charade.
The real point of the exercise in chaos that the country was just dragged through was the chaos itself.
And the beneficiary of it all is the Republican who has suddenly stepped back into the limelight after laying low through most of the shutdown: House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.
Fully aware that the American people have no taste for a “grand bargain” that might see the implementation of at least some of his Ayn Rand–inspired “survival-of-the-fittest” proposals for means-testing earned-benefit programs, for taking the first steps toward privatization of Social Security, for turning Medicare and Medicaid into voucher programs, Ryan has for years been looking for an opening that makes his proposals seem “necessary.”
The 2012 election, when he was his party’s “big ideas” guy, and its nominee for vice president, confirmed that there was no electoral route to advance his agenda. Americans rejected Ryan, overwhelmingly. He could not even carry his home state for the Romney-Ryan ticket, which was defeated by a 5 million popular-vote margin and a 332-206 Electoral College blowout. Ryan knew that it would take more to get his opening. And the crisis of the past several weeks in Washington provided it.