Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan denies that he is seeking to lead the Republican Party into the presidential election even if that is what it takes to block the billionaire. With that being said, a photo with Netanyahu certainly won’t harm his chances if he changes his mind.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan arrived yesterday (Sunday) for an official visit to Israel. The American and Israeli journalists who met Ryan, 46, in Jerusalem asked him whether he is planning to exploit the total chaos prevailing in the Republican Party this year in order to transform himself in a matter of months into the party’s candidate for the presidency of the United States. Ryan replied that he has no such intention, but very few are taking him at his word.
Ryan visited Israel in his capacity as speaker, a role he assumed half a year ago following the resignation of his predecessor John Boehner. The latter was responsible for inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give his controversial speech before Congress, where he warned of the dangers of a nuclear agreement with Iran. Boehner was forced to resign in the wake of the wave of populist protest that washed over the Republican Party as Boehner was seen to be the ultimate representation of the “Republican establishment,” which is fiercely disliked by party activists.
Since taking up the role, Ryan has been occupied predominantly by struggles with the White House and the Democrats’ budget issues. Yet with the turmoil currently taking place in the GOP primaries, there are those who are lining him up for still greater things. Over the past few weeks there has been an increase in the number of voices associated with the Republican establishment that are calling to position Ryan as the “compromise candidate,” the one who will save the party from the poll-leader Donald Trump.
The logic behind this idea relates to the fact that at the Republican National Convention taking place this summer, no candidate — Trump included — is expected to receive the required number of party delegates necessary to become the official candidate. The required number is 1,237 delegates. Trump currently has 740, while the two other candidates left in the picture, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, have significantly fewer. In order to make it to the magic number, Trump will need to win 60 percent of the remaining delegates from the states yet to hold primaries, which certainly appears to be a steep hurdle for a candidate for whom a decisive majority of Republicans in the United States simply can’t bring themselves to vote.
Will Ryan Be the Knight in Shining Armor for the Republican Establishment?
It is expected that in case the GOP convention convenes and no candidate holds the necessary number of delegates for an outright victory, the resulting party turmoil would be of a kind which hasn’t been seen in the U.S. for decades. The delegates, mostly elected officials representing different states, would be obligated to vote for the candidate who won in their state, which in most cases is Trump, but only in the first round of voting. Should Trump fail to receive the required number of delegates in that round, the rules change, and most of the delegates will be free to vote as they please.
This is the dream scenario for the Republican establishment, which abhors the idea of Trump; that the delegates, finding themselves unrestricted as to whom they nominate, vote neither for Trump nor for the current second-place candidate, the extreme arch-conservative Ted Cruz, but vote instead for a more moderate establishment figure. Paul Ryan is the name which appears time and time again in this context, if the reports and rumors in Washington are anything to go by. He’s young, charismatic, relatively well-known to the American public, and in Wisconsin he represents a key voting state in the general presidential election.
Ryan himself denies that he intends to dance to any such tune, but that isn’t stopping senior Republican establishment figures from continuing to fantasize about him ghosting into the candidacy at the last minute to save the party from implosion. Surveys looking toward the presidential election suggest that with Trump as the Republican candidate, Hillary Clinton’s victory is practically assured. Trump is so unpopular with women, Latinos and African-American voters that his chances of winning tend to zero. The extreme Cruz is barely more palatable as a candidate in a nation where the rate of religiosity continues to decrease year after year. Ryan is the senior Republicans’ knight in shining armor.
It was against this backdrop that Ryan touched down in Israel for his visit. It was somewhat reminiscent of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit here last month. Biden, like Ryan, has been mentioned as a possible savior candidate for the Democratic Party, should the investigations into Clinton’s controversial private email server become serious enough to block her run for the presidency. This doesn’t seem like a particularly likely scenario, but the possibility nonetheless exists. That’s why Biden has of late been more active, appearing at the Oscars ceremony and undertaking an especially publicized and photographed visit to Israel — including a tour with his family through the Old City of Jerusalem — and in the months to come he’s expected to continue being given such noteworthy and flattering assignments by the White House.
Ryan’s visit was conducted in a similar vein. Prime Minister Netanyahu is in general highly regarded by Republican voters, and as such a photo of a warm, sympathetic handshake in his office is a precious commodity for right-wing politicians in the United States. Ryan might be about to get his way. If the volatile political drama which has so far characterized 2016 lands him in the position of leading Republican candidate in a few more months, it’s fair to assume that we’ll see that photo starring in his election campaign.
Ryan has already had a taste of a presidential election campaign in his career. Mitt Romney chose him to as his vice-presidential running mate. The most memorable moment of that campaign was the TV debate he took part in against his opponent Biden. The age gap dividing them, almost 30 years, was starkly noticeable throughout the contest. Biden took care to compliment his young counterpart, while at the same time putting him firmly in his place as a youngster who had learned far less than he himself had forgotten.
That was especially true in the context of Israel. For the duration of the debate, Ryan tried to go on the attack over the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel, in accordance with Romney’s campaign position on the topic. Biden, who knows Netanyahu from the 1980s and is thought of as one of the most pro-Israel politicians out there, didn’t take the criticism lying down. “With regard to Bibi, he’s been my friend for 39 years!” he thundered over Ryan. “The president’s met with Bibi a dozen times, he’s spoken to Bibi as much as he’s spoken to anybody. I was in a conference call with [the president] talking to Bibi for well over an hour. This is a bunch of stuff! It’s inaccurate.”
Biden signed off his passionate response with the word “malarkey,” which means “nonsense” and is identified with the Irish community in America. Ryan, who himself has Irish roots, lost focus and instead of firing back at Biden on the issue of Israel, began to laugh. If the seemingly unlikely scenario does materialize, and he finds himself once again taking on Biden over Israel in front of tens of millions of viewers, this time he’ll be more prepared.
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