Last week, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan went to the headquarters of the Republican National Committee to definitively announce that he would not — under any circumstances — accept his party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
At face value, this declaration seems laughable, since Ryan said the exact same thing about the speakership prior to becoming House speaker. But in this case, Ryan is telling the truth. He knows that who won’t be his party’s nominee in 2016 because that wouldn’t be politically smart. And more than anything else, Ryan is politically savvy.
Though Ryan’s intellect is obvious and well-documented, it’s also under-appreciated. He might be among the smartest politicians of his generation. At the relatively young age of 46, he has already reached what would be the pinnacle of any average political career — Speaker of the House of Representatives. At 42, he nearly became vice president of the United States. He’s also previously served has chairman of two powerful House committees — Ways and Means; and Budget.
Speaker Ryan is young enough to play the long game — even he is waits 20 years, he could still run for president and be younger than Hillary Clinton is now.
But his youth is a mere advantage; it’s not the reason he is waiting. Ryan is smart. And he can see that his political party is going through rapid transformation. The rise of Donald Trump within the Republican Party is the final phase of a realignment that began with the defeat of President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Since that critical election, the party has been searching for its next Reagan. The presidency of George W. Bush was almost a period of happenstance during an era that was dominated by Democrats at the presidential level.
Trump’s pending nomination and guaranteed defeat in the general election will destroy the Republican Party as we know it, and usher in a new version of the GOP.
Speaker Ryan can see this coming a mile away. He is smart enough to know that the 2016 presidential election is already lost. The Senate might be lost, too. The speaker’s primary goal now is to salvage his House majority and remain the undisputed future leader of the party itself. Ryan knows party stalwarts like Mitch McConnell, 74, are nearing their political sunsets; all he must do is wait patiently for his moment to arrive.
The Trump implosion might be severe enough to wipe out McConnell and a slew of Republican governors. The House of Representatives is so gerrymandered that it’s probably safely Republican until at least 2020. Speaker Ryan is likely to survive this election year, and begin immediately rebuilding the party in his own image. All of his would-be rivals for the Republican nomination — Christie, Kasich, Rubio, Walker — ran and lost in the 2016 primary. Their collective failure make them lesser threats now and in the future.
So no, Paul Ryan isn’t running for President this year. That would be foolish. The smart move would be to watch the entire party go down in flames in 2016, and emerge as its next great savior. Such a devilish plan would be befitting the evil genius of Paul Ryan.