Paul Ryan has been repeatedly called on to save the Republicans. He drafted the budget that represented the party’s blueprint for growth. He was asked to serve as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, to add youth and excitement to a milquetoast top of the ticket. And last year, he was drafted to serve as speaker of the House – possibly the most thankless job in all of Washington, tasked with uniting a fractured Republican caucus, succeeding where skilled politicians like John Boehner had failed.
Every time, Paul Ryan reluctantly said yes. Every time, the insiders were able to call on Ryan’s sense of duty – to the party, the people and to the country.
Many of those same insiders were banking on Ryan to save the party once again – this time from a Donald Trump nomination. A nomination the Republican elites understand would be a complete and total repudiation of their leadership, and one they believe would result in electoral ruin.
A scenario was imagined where Ted Cruz and John Kasich won just enough delegates to keep Trump from the 1,237 he needs to secure the nomination. A scenario where after several deadlocked ballots in Cleveland, Paul Ryan could be convinced that – once again – they needed him and he had no choice but to say yes.
On Tuesday, Paul Ryan ended those fantasies. Paul Ryan finally said no.
After several weeks of half-hearted denials that left the door open to him riding in to save the party, he’s explicitly closed it. In one of the most bizarre press conferences in recent memory, as the presidential primary process draws to an end, a man who has never been a candidate for the office – the sitting speaker of the House – explicitly said he would not accept the GOP nomination for president in 2016 under any circumstances.
“I simply believe that if you want to be the nominee – to be the president – you should actually run for it. I chose not to. Therefore, I should not be considered. Period.”
“Count me out,” he said.
For those who hoped that Ryan would leave open even the slightest possibility the speaker was unequivocal. “Let me be clear: I do not want, nor will I accept the Republican nomination.”
While the insiders and the #NeverTrump forces may be disappointed, his decision was absolutely the right one – for him and for the party.
It is all but guaranteed that Donald Trump will come into Cleveland with the most delegates, having won the most nominating contests, and with the lion’s share of the votes of Republican primary participants. The effort to wrest the nomination from Trump – by hook or by crook – can best be described as a kamikaze mission.
If it is successful, denying Trump the nomination likely means the end of the Republican party as we know it, the complete dissolution of the Republican coalition. At this point, no one can unite the party. No one can put the political Humpty Dumpty back together again. This is not Reagan-Ford in 1976 or even Carter-Kennedy in 1980. If Trump is denied the nomination, he will not simply go quietly into the night. He will likely launch an independent bid for president, which despite its unorthodox nature, would give him the platform he’d need to settle scores with the Republican insiders who, in his mind, would have “stolen” the nomination from him.
Paul Ryan is still a young man, with a lifetime in politics ahead of him. Saying no to being the pilot of a political kamikaze mission against Donald Trump will ensure that his bright future does not meet a fiery end this fall.