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Ryan reluctant to take charge of Capitol Hill hornets' nest

By one reckoning, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan is in an enviable position. His party wants him to accept the job of House Speaker so badly that offers have been made to relieve him of the customary onerous task of fund-raising, if only he will agree.

It's said that Mr. Ryan, a family man with three small kids at home, would still be able to keep regular hours and go home to Wisconsin on weekends, rather than tooling around the country soliciting campaign money for his party flock.

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But it's also said that he is so happy as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and its focus on tax matters and excessive government spending, that he prefers to stay where he is, and where as an acknowledged expert he can do most for party and country.

So he's been playing hard to get, despite the fact that the plum being waved under his nose would make him the highest ranking Republican office-holder and also place him second in line of succession to the presidency, a sinecure he presumably would happily embrace.

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No doubt if he were to achieve it, he would have an even heavier fund-raising obligation on a much broader scale. But at least he would have the comfort of having his wife and kids move from Janesville to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where they could dine most nights with him, with an excellent kitchen staff serving up the grub.

On a more serious note, Mr. Ryan as the most recent Republican vice-presidential nominee, albeit a losing one, acquitted himself laudably in the 2012 campaign on the ticket with Mitt Romney. Of the current 15 contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, only outsiders Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are getting much attention, so a Speaker Ryan might be well positioned for the 2020 White House competition.

His party is so desperate for an establishment savior right now that if Paul Ryan were to put personal preference aside and take one for the team, he likely would become the party hero of the hour, well situated to pick up the pieces later. This seems possible if the current fiasco brings the Grand Old Party an even greater image of dysfunction than it has now, and defeat in 2016.

It can be argued that the risk for Mr. Ryan in taking the speakership would be inviting the same outcome that drove off his old friendsJohn Boehner and Kevin McCarthy from the top House post. Mr. Ryan after all was one of the celebrated Young Guns who offered a new generation of Republican leaders when Speaker Dennis Hastert left the job only steps ahead of the sheriff.

The Freedom Caucus and tea party members who engineered Mr. Boehner's resignation and approvingly witnessed Mr. McCarthy's political suicide remain poised to inflict their demands for new House rules and procedures that would empower them to confront President Obama across the board.

They have drawn an indelible line against any compromise with him, arguing that their constituents have sent them to Washington to carry out their wishes to change the way Capitol Hill works, by giving the GOP control of both House and Senate.

Under these circumstances, why would Paul Ryan want to volunteer to be keeper of this hornets' nest of angry and unruly our-way-or-the-highway inflexibles? At this particular moment, Ryan has every reason to ask why his ostensibly good friends in the House would want to wish this fate on him.

Unless he can somehow extract from the full House Republican Conference a commitment to accept and support a leadership that relies on political reality in this era of divided government -- a Democratic executive branch and a Republican legislative -- to govern through collaboration and compromise, he'd be better off saying: "Thanks, but no thanks."

It's a sad commentary on the state of the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan that it has to go begging to its last defeated vice-presidential nominee to take the gavel of what has often been known as the People's House.


Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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