It sounds like a match between a second-rate comic book hero-and-villain pair: the Golden Boy vs. the Orange Man. Thus it’s fitting in more ways than one that former House Speaker (and first “orange” speaker) John Boehner perhaps started the ball rolling. At a Futures Industry Association, Boehner said of the narrowing GOP presidential field, “They all had a chance to win. None of them won. So I'm for none of the above. I'm for Paul Ryan to be our nominee.”
Having belatedly realized that Donald Trump might just get within striking distance of the nomination, the GOP’s donor class has turned to a desperate strategy to wrest the nomination away from him at what’s more likely to be a contested convention, after Ted Cruz's Wisconsin primary victory on Tuesday. One anonymous Republican insider told Politico that there’s a 60 percent of convention deadlock, an 90 percent chance that the delegates will unite around Ryan, and a 54 percent chance that Ryan will end up the party’s nominee.
Here's a reality check: Paul Ryan won’t save the Republican party from what having Donald Trump as its nominee would do to the party. Beneath his cool, less orange exterior, Ryan isn’t all that different from Trump.
Always the darling of the donor class, Ryan has support among the party’s wealthiest supporters. Charles Koch, of the infamous Koch brothers, said that Ryan is a “shoo-in” if Trump falls 100 delegates short of what he needs to win the nomination.
Of course the GOP establishment likes Ryan as the dark horse candidate. He looks good on paper. He holds all the "right" positions on the issues, and rings all the "right" bells, for wealthy conservatives. Ryan will prioritize tax cuts for the wealthy, boost military spending, slash social program, and turn Social Security into Wall Streets next bonanza.
With Ryan, the GOP establishment gets what it considers the best of Trump's agenda, without the wince-inducing bombast. Trump's "full repeal of Obamacare"? Check. Trump's "wall with Mexico"? A "top priority" for Ryan. Trump's tax rate cut for the wealthy from 39 percent to 25 percent, and corporate tax rate cut to 15 percent? Check. Trump's privatization of Veterans Administration health care? Parallels Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare, so check. Trump's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal? Even here, check.
And yet Ryan is too unlike Trump to woo "the Donald's" supporters back should the GOP successfully deny Trump the nomination. (Indeed, Ryan was booed when Donald Trump mentioned his name at a rally in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis.) Ryan is out of step with this crowd on the two issues that rile them up the most: immigration and trade. Ryan has overall taken a much softer line on comprehensive Immigration reform than Trump and has taken Trump to task on his tone, albeit indirectly, and while he is critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership his rhetoric on trade with China is no match for Trump's.
Still, the GOP establishment likes Paul Ryan because they suffer similar delusions. Wealthy conservatives like Koch believe that Ryan will unite the party. Politico’s Republican insider described Ryan as “the most conservative, least establishment member of the establishment,” and thus more likely to draw disaffected Trump supporters back into the fold. Paul Ryan appears to believe that, too. In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood Ryan mused that this election might be a “clarifying election,” in which “the men and women who are citizens of this nation … break this impasse,“ and put a Republican president in the White House to match a Republican-dominated Congress.
Republicans, though, can't just deny Trump and install Ryan as the nominee without serious consequences. The numbers don’t lie. According to exit polls, Republican voters already feel betrayed by the establishment. In Ohio, 57 percent of Republican voters said they felt betrayed by their party. In North Carolina, 54 percent of Republican voter said they felt betrayed. Ryan as nominee will be seen as another — perhaps the final — betrayal.
Even if the GOP survives its own convention, Paul Ryan would face embarrassing questions about his legitimacy as a candidate. To date, 65 percent of GOP primary voters have voted for either Trump or Cruz. By the time of the Republican convention, Ryan will have won zero primaries this election.
Second, Ryan isn’t crazy enough to take the Republican nomination away from Donald Trump, but like Trump he’s still far too extreme to win enough votes in the general election.
Neither Trump nor Ryan can make their budgetary math add up. Trump plans to cut taxes by $7 trillion and eliminate the national debt in eight years – all without raising taxes, or cutting Social Security, or cutting defense. The Congressional Budget Office said that Trump’s plan would leave the country with about $6 trillion to fund the government over eight years. Ryan’s budget, while chair of the House Budget Committee were nearly as disastrous — or would have been if they’d been inflicted on the country — destroying Medicare and Medicaid as we know them by rendering them unrecognizable, and leaving millions without health coverage. Meanwhile, Ryan would cut the top tax rate by 25 percent, and pretend that his cuts wouldn’t cost the country anything.
Fortunately, polls show Ryan losing to just about everyone in the general election. So if the GOP manages to stop Trump and install Ryan as the appointed nominee, the country could still dodge that bullet. Paul Ryan won’t be the person to save the Republican party from the damage that Trump is doing to the GOP – especially when Ryan's agenda is the Trump agenda without the orange color.
Isaiah J. Poole contributed to this article.