Paul Ryan wants very much to be recognized as the adult at the kids’ table that his Republican Party has become.
And much of the media will afford him that recognition, as no one in the party works harder to curry the favor of the print and broadcast outlets that long ago formed an amen corner for the House speaker.
Ryan endeavors to portray himself as a diligent public servant who simply wants to do the heavy lifting required to reform government and the economy. (Even if he is a tad vague about his precise mission: shaping budgets and rewriting tax codes to favor the interests of the billionaires, bankers and corporate CEOs who donate so generously to the many campaign funds he manages.) But, when push comes to shove, Ryan invariably succumbs to the tantalizing offers of a vice presidential nomination, a more powerful committee chairmanship or a speakership. And no one should be so naive as to doubt for a second that Ryan would—after his usual protestations to the contrary—accept the 2016 Republican presidential nomination if it was offered up on the silver platter he always demands.
That does not mean that Ryan expects to get the offer. He is savvy enough to know that his party is likely to settle on a nominee before the convention in Cleveland that he will chair; and that the pick is likely to be one of the candidates who actually campaigned for the nomination. But Ryan is also aware of the practical concern among thinking Republicans about the political dangers of nominating an extremist—probably Donald Trump, possibly Ted Cruz—who will unsettle the great majority of Americans and potentially doom the party to devastating defeat.
So Ryan is grabbing a bit of the spotlight to signal that he is always available. And that, should all hell break loose at the convention or next November on Election Day, Republicans would be wise to continue to embrace him as their party’s once and future hope.
When Ryan calls his party to the higher ground, as he did Wednesday in a particularly self-serving address about the state of American politics, it must be understood that he sees himself at the pinnacle. And he is not about to do anything to alter that image. He will take no risks. He will never, ever act of principle.