Nate Jackson / October 9, 2015

With McCarthy Out, Is Ryan Up?

The Wisconsin Republican may be the man to unite the party.

Kevin McCarthy abruptly dropped out of the race for House speaker Thursday when it became evident he didn’t have the votes, and the Republican conference vote has been postponed indefinitely. “I don’t want to go to the floor and win with 220 votes,” said the current majority leader, who might not have reached even that threshold. “I think the best thing for our party is to win with 247 votes.” That’s the total number of Republicans in the House — important because, if McCarthy had needed Democrat votes to win the speakership, it would have meant concessions to Nancy Pelosi.

“This was for the good of the team,” he said. So McCarthy’s 11th-hour withdrawal is a laudable display of a little humility rare among Swamp-dwellers.

“For us to unite, we probably need a fresh face,” McCarthy added. “If we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face to help do that.”

There are rumors that McCarthy was engaged in an extramarital affair with Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), and his decision was brought about by a letter from Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) calling on any candidate who has committed “misdeeds” to withdraw. But McCarthy dismissed those rumors, and there is little reason at this point to believe them. Going forward, we’ll see.

More important, his recent gaffe, a boneheaded explanation of the Benghazi committee’s purpose, was a priceless gift to Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democrats, and it rendered him unfit for the speaker’s post in the eyes of many colleagues. That and John Boehner’s endorsement — many conservatives were quite pleased to be rid of Boehner, and few were keen on immediately passing the reins to his right-hand man.

Had the leadership actually led instead of looking for ways to bow to Barack Obama’s agenda, the Right wouldn’t be so divided.

National Review’s Rich Lowry explains, “The Republican nervous breakdown is entirely self-inflicted. Understanding the House caucus is less Politics 101 than scorpions in a bottle. The right of the caucus hates and distrusts the leadership, while most of the rest of the caucus hates and distrusts the right, and no one has the standing to bring all sides together in a semblance of unity.”

The 40-plus member House Freedom Caucus had just endorsed Daniel Webster (R-FL) for the post, and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) likewise was making a push in the race.

Neither of those candidates, however, has anywhere near the necessary majority at this point, which has led to some speculation about who else might rise up for the post. Namely, Paul Ryan, the current chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and Mitt Romney’s VP pick in 2012.

Ryan so far has categorically denied interest or intention in running for the post, preferring the policy details of Ways and Means — not to mention seeing his young family once in a while — to wrangling votes from a rambunctious Republican conference.

For the record, we think Ryan would make an outstanding speaker, and he may be the most logical choice to unite the House Freedom Caucus with the rest of the conference. Ryan is a solidly conservative deal maker.

Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru writes, “Ryan is respected by most people on both sides of the divide. Many of the Republicans who were against Boehner and McCarthy would listen to him, and trust him to listen to them. They sometimes disagree with him, but they trust that he is in politics because of conservative ideas. No other House Republican has the same reservoir of goodwill. No other House Republican is considered as good a spokesman on such politically perilous issues as entitlement reform.”

Now what? The speaker election has been postponed and Boehner will likely remain until someone gets to 218 votes. The trouble is, leadership is a thankless job and few seem to want it.

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