Being speaker of the house is arguably the most difficult job in Congress. That’s why when offered the position after John Boehner announced his retirement, Paul Ryan initially said no. He preferred to remain the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Additionally, Ryan wanted to continue spending time with his family. He knew that the speaker of the house position would include a grueling schedule.
Yet many Republicans wouldn’t back down. Ryan was a consensus choice in the GOP-controlled Congress. He’s a policy wonk who was the party’s nominee for vice president. Being speaker means being number two in the presidential line of succession. Wouldn’t anyone want to be speaker if given the opportunity?
Actually, Ryan’s reluctance was smart. He knew what he was going to get into. Anyone who becomes speaker will be automatically called “establishment” by populist forces. You can find plenty of criticism of Ryan on Breitbart. The far-right website does everything it can to portray Ryan as RINO (Republican in name only). Ann Coulter once said defeating Ryan is “the last chance to save America.”
These attacks have taken a toll on Ryan’s popularity. A poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that only 24 percent of Republicans view Ryan positively while 40 percent have a negative view of him. This makes governing difficult. It’s not easy to implement a conservative agenda when a faction in the Republican Party is persistently opposed to everything Ryan does and blames him whenever something goes wrong.
Some of the things the speaker is getting criticized for aren’t even true. For example, an article claiming Ryan said border wall construction wasn’t happening at a private dinner is easily debunked by the House of Representatives routinely approving wall funding. In July, a bill was passed that approved $1.6 billion for the wall. This bill became deadlocked in the Senate, so the House of Representatives passed it again in September.
Under Ryan’s leadership, the House of Representatives actually passed a health care reform bill. He was able to bring moderate Republicans and members of the House Freedom Caucus together. Once again, reform failed to get through the Senate.
During the campaign trail, Ryan offered policy-based solutions with his Better Way project. He’s leading the way legislatively more than anybody else in Congress. After the Senate’s failure to approve repealing and replacing Obamacare, he’s now going to try tax reform.
Ryan has done more than enough to aid his party. His joint fundraising committee raised $10.5 million in the second quarter of this year, bringing his total to almost $33 million collected in 2017. Those funds don’t just go to his campaign, but also to the National Republican Congressional Committee in order to help the GOP win in competitive districts across the country.
Unfortunately, these actions haven’t stopped Ryan’s critics. Chief among them is the vacuous Paul Nehlen, a businessman who ran against Ryan in Wisconsin’s first district last year. Not only does Nehlen peddle erroneous talking points heard from every anti-Ryan pundit, but he’s also a laughingstock of a candidate. His brain-dead antics led him to a 68-point defeat in the 2016 Republican primary.
Nehlen is already under fire this election cycle for his lack of respect towards law enforcement. During the primary, he took a picture of his ballot, which is illegal. Rather than cooperate with police during the investigation, Nehlen decided to factory reset his cellphone and remove the SIM card. In doing this, he ensured that there would be no evidence of the image. The police concluded Nehlen had committed a Class I felony.
Nehlen coddles the alt-right by retweeting images of the Charlottesville rally. He’s such a kook that he even says he believes the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. Last year, conspiracy theorists preposterously claimed that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex abuse ring out of a Washington D.C. pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong. The conspiracy drove a man to shoot at the restaurant while doing his own “investigation.”
While Republicans across the country aren’t happy with Ryan, he is popular among Republicans within the first district. He won a landslide against Nehlen last time and he’s definitely going to win one this time.
But winning elections only takes you so far. There have to be policy victories as well. Ryan has proven to be an indispensable leader in Congress. He’s working hard to enact a conservative agenda and Republicans needs to have his back if they want to be successful.
John Graber ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and political science.