The Republican Party has two choices for its nominee: off-script business mogul Donald Trump or Senate troublemaker Ted Cruz.
That is it.
In recent weeks, House Speaker Paul Ryan (who got dragged into his current job) has been floated as a plausible alternative to the Republican Party’s vexing choice between an uncontainable Trump and Cruz, a man who has made his share of enemies on Capitol Hill with his anti-establishment stunts to shut down the government and stop legislation in its tracks. With just months to go before the nominating convention, the GOP seems to be doing what it does whenever it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, it’s looking to a political unicorn to save it.
Politico’s Mike Allen blared Monday that “One of the nation’s best-wired Republicans sees a 54 percent chance that Ryan will end up as the nominee.” Huffington Post reported that conservative donor Charles Koch was optimistic Ryan could sweep a contested convention. And before Ryan, there were plenty of headlines that hoped Mitt Romney would stage an encore performance as the party’s nominee.
“I think it is all fantasy island,” John Feehery, a GOP strategist, told TPM. “This idea we are going to be able to pluck someone like a Paul Ryan and run him as a presidential candidate is a pretty big reach. I just don’t see it happening.”
Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, agreed that a white knight at the Republican convention was a pipe dream.
“Delegates cannot walk into a convention and take the nomination. There would be outrage within the base of the party if a person who had not even competed were to take the nomination,” Williams said.
Mere rumors of a Ryan takeover at the convention has mobilized right-wing media this week, revealing just how ugly and aggressive the backlash could be for an outsider trying to skirt the primary competition and take the nomination from those who have been running for it. Breitbart News published several stories blasting Ryan. One, painted Ryan as soft on immigration and featured interviews with the family members of victims of crimes committed by immigrants who were in the country illegally.
“He needs to go pick out one of his own little darling children to sacrifice to the God of cheap labor instead of living behind security walls and allowing other people’s kids to get chosen,”Dan Golvach, whose son Spencer was killed by an immigrant who was illegally in the country, was quoted as saying in the Breitbart piece.
Breitbart also made strange and unconnected claims about Ryan and Muslims, writing that “as a result of unbridled Muslim migration into the United States, more than 2,100 U.S. girls in Wisconsin — the state represented by Ryan — are at-risk of suffering the anti-Western practice Female Genital Mutilation, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).”
Another Breitbart story claimed that Ryan was “one of Congress’s biggest proponents of globalist trade pacts that send American jobs overseas.”
If April produces cheap shots about genital mutilation targeting a guy who is adamant that he doesn’t want to be the nominee and is content to merely serve in his neutral role as convention chairman, imagine what it will be like in Cleveland in July.
Any effort to promote an outsider alternative to Trump and Cruz at a contested convention would immediately be beset by the same internal GOP tensions between the grassroots and establishment wings of the party for more than five years now. In the ongoing battle for the soul of the party, the anti-establishment factions are gaining ground. To deny them their gains could shatter what remains of the party.
“The only candidate that I see that can keep the base fired up is Ted Cruz. If you knock Ted Cruz out, you are playing with fire,” said Adam Brandon, the president of FreedomWorks. “The establishment keeps talking about a civil war. The civil war is over and the grassroots has won.”
Ryan has denied at every turn he wants the job. And even the most connected voices in the party are beginning to accept that there is little chance the GOP establishment is going to get a candidate who can expand the party’s base during overtime at the convention.
Fred Malek, a prominent businessman and Republican fundraiser, admitted there is recognition and fear that putting up an alternate this late in the game could alienate the base (although he still holds out hope that Kasich could make a play at a contested convention.)
“You add insult to injury if you select someone who has not even been in this battle,” Malek said.