Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Ryan to House ultra-conservatives: 'My price is your surrender'

Paul Ryan was pretty blunt.

"Prove to me that you can be led, and I will lead you," he essentially told his fellow House Republicans Tuesday night. "Otherwise, I've got better things to do."

That approach has to come as a bit of a shock to the self-romanticizing "rebels" in the House Freedom Caucus, the "true true conservatives" in a party of mere "true conservatives" who had created this crisis. Here they were, wanting to be wooed and ready with a list of demands they wanted the next speaker to satisfy, and suddenly they're the ones being pressured to compromise and to satisfy a list of demands.

Among other things, Ryan wants a solid pledge of support from all various wings of the party. And he wants a change of House rules so that once he becomes speaker, he cannot be challenged until the next Congress takes its seats in 2017. Having witnessed what happened to John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy, he has no intention of becoming "the third log on the fire," he apparently told his colleagues.

“No matter who is speaker, they cannot be successful with this weapon pointed at them all the time,” Ryan's spokesman told the press.

So will the true believers agree to Ryan's conditions? No one knows, themselves included. The pressure to do so by the Friday deadline will be intense, but on the other hand, the 40 or so members of the Freedom Caucus have grown fond of themselves and their rebellious image. It has given them a power and a prominence that most of them had no chance of otherwise achieving, and surrendering that for the common good will be difficult.

The same is true of those in conservative media who have egged on the Freedom Caucus from the sidelines, feeding their egos and in the process augmenting their own influence. A surrender by the Freedom Caucus will be bad for their own business, bad for their own sense of worth. As Erick Erickson plaintively put it at RedState, "This would be a terrible, terrible deal for House Conservatives. It would gut their ability to pull the House Republicans to the right."

Yes. That is exactly what it would do, at least for a month or two, until old patterns and resentments reassert themselves down the road. But it's either that, or anarchy.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.