On the eve of the Wisconsin primaries, top Republicans are becoming increasingly vocal about their long-held belief that Speaker Paul Ryan will wind up as the nominee, perhaps on the fourth ballot at a chaotic Cleveland convention.
One of the nation’s best-wired Republicans, with an enviable prediction record for this cycle, sees a 60 percent chance of a convention deadlock and a 90 percent chance that delegates turn to Ryan — ergo, a 54 percent chance that Ryan, who’ll start the third week of July as chairman of the Republican National Convention, will end it as the nominee.
“He’s the most conservative, least establishment member of the establishment,” the Republican source said. “That’s what you need to be.”
Ryan, who’s more calculating and ambitious than he lets on, is running the same playbook he did to become speaker: saying he doesn’t want it, that it won’t happen. In both cases, the maximum leverage is to not want it — and to be begged to do it. He and his staff are trying to be as Shermanesque as it gets. Ryan repeated his lack of interest Monday morning in an interview from Israel with radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Of course in this environment, saying you don’t want the job is the only way to get it. If he was seen to be angling for it, he’d be stained and disqualified by the current mess.
But Ryan, 46, a likable Midwesterner, could look too tempting to resist as Republicans finally focus on a beatable Hillary Clinton. He got rave reviews for a “State of American Politics” speech on March 23 (hashtag on his podium: “#ConfidentAmerica,” the title of his high-minded manifesto at the Library of Congress in December). In the “State of Politics” address, Ryan offered himself as the anti-Trump (without mentioning The Don): “Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults.”
On “Morning Joe” Monday morning, Joe Scarborough said that if Trump falls even one vote short of a clinch, the convention will “look for someone else”: “If Trump doesn’t get the number, they’ll say they have rules for a reason.” And Karl Rove told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week: “A fresh face might be the thing that would give us a chance to turn this election and win in November against Hillary.”
Top Republicans say “fresh face” is code for “Paul Ryan.”
A Ryan friend chuckled when we asked if he wants it, and pointed to last month’s address: “That was somebody who was laying out the speech that, in most cases, you’d give six months before you announce you’re going to run – when you’re going around the country, raising money for your leadership PAC.”