Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Note to the Republican Establishment: Nominating Paul Ryan for President at a contested GOP convention will break your party into pieces and hand the general election to Hillary Clinton. And why would you want to do that, when you could nominate Ted Cruz instead, and win the presidency? Could it be you’d actually rather lose the White House to maintain control over your party machinery, rather than lose control of the party machinery as the cost of having your party win the White House?

Even after seven years - seven years in which Tea Party activists worked their tails off to give Republicans control of the House in 2010, and the Senate in 2014 - it is clear that the Republican establishment still does not understand the Tea Party.

How else to explain the ridiculous notion, apparently now circulating inside establishment GOP salons (it led Mike Allen’s “Politico Playbook” on Monday, so it must be true - no other reporter has a better line on Establishment GOP thinking), that House Speaker Paul Ryan could emerge from a contested GOP convention to claim the party’s presidential nomination and unite the party?

Anyone who thinks Paul Ryan could unite the GOP has his head in the sand.

So far this year, we’ve watched more than 30 individual primaries and caucuses. In virtually all of them, the same pattern has held true: More than 70 percent of GOP primary voters have chosen to cast their ballots for either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two most anti-Establishment candidates of the 17 who originally sought the party’s nomination.

Put another way, more than two-thirds of those who have cast ballots in the GOP nominating contest to date have used their votes to flip off the GOP establishment.

Ignoring that, and using the rules of the convention and standard political wheeling and dealing to override the will of the party’s voters as expressed through those primaries and caucuses - even if done openly, under the rules, and without any shenanigans - would lead to disaster.

I spend much of my time traveling around the country, meeting with local Tea Party activists. I visit five, six, seven states every month, on average. And I can tell you this - there’s just no way Tea Party supporters will back Paul Ryan for president in the scenario the GOP establishment envisions, for two reasons: First, despite their insistence to the contrary that he is a “conservative,” he is definitely not Tea Party; second, he didn’t bother to suit up and run for president.

Before he was speaker, congressman Ryan voted to create Medicare Part D, the largest expansion of the federal government since Medicare. He voted for No Child Left Behind, the disastrous federal government takeover of education policy by Washington. He opposed a Balanced Budget Amendment, but supported the TARP bailout, the AIG bailout and the GM bailout. And when John Boehner needed a salesman from within his conference’s leadership to quietly build a House coalition to pass comprehensive immigration reform (read: amnesty for illegal immigrants), to whom did he turn? Paul Ryan, who did the job so well the House’s leading amnesty advocate, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, endorsed him for speaker.

And that was all before Ryan laid claim to the speakership.

When he entered his new job, his approval ratings among Republicans were enviable - according to polling from The Economist/YouGov, he was at 69/14 approve/disapprove, a tidy +54. Within five weeks, his numbers cratered to 46/32 approve/disapprove, a whopping 40-point drop. That was in mid-December. Does anyone think anything he’s done in the four months since has increased his approval rating among Republicans? I think not.

And why look to Ryan anyway, when there’s a perfectly good conservative Republican running who can win the nomination at a contested convention without resort to any tomfoolery? I speak of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Last Man Standing against Trump, who actually does have the support of the Tea Party element of the GOP, and has won converts from the Establishment wing, as well.

Trump and his partisans threaten to split the party if they conclude the nomination is “stolen” from him at a contested convention. But losing the nomination to Cruz - who, by definition, could only win the nomination if a majority of the delegates to the convention voted to give him the nomination - would not necessarily be losing the nomination to a thief. Cruz, after all, ran a campaign, participated in debates, won millions of votes, and would (again, by definition) have won a majority of the delegates, outmaneuvering Trump and his supporters fair and square.

So what’s wrong with Cruz? Is it that a Cruz victory would mean an end to business as usual in Washington? For months, I’ve been reading that the establishment GOP fears a ticket headed by Ted Cruz would be defeated in the fall campaign - despite the fact that general election polling shows Cruz with a lead over the likely Democratic nominee.

What’s far more insidious is the notion that the establishment GOP fears a Cruz nomination not because he might lose, but because he might win. That could cost a bunch of lobbyists and consultants and lawyers and other D.C.-based GOP elites a bunch of business. Could they be so self-interested they’d put their own narrow interests above the interests of their party and their country?

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