On Thursday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan posted a video to YouTube. The video, which was set to stirring music, showed Ryan saying this in a speech:
"What really bothers me the most about politics these days is this notion of identity politics: that we’re going to win an election by dividing people, rather than inspiring people on our common humanity and our common ideals and our common culture on the things that should unify us. We all want to be prosperous. We all want to be healthy. We want everybody to succeed. We want people to reach their potential in their lives. Now, liberals and conservatives are going to disagree with one another on that. No problem. That’s what this is all about. So let’s have a battle of ideas. Let’s have a contest of whose ideas are better and why our ideas are better."
Ryan staffers denied that the video was some sort of political campaign ad, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt on that. The video wasn't an ad. It was just a regular video with the look, feel, music can't-we-all-get-along tone of a general election presidential campaign ad that was released just as speculation about Ryan's prospects in the 2016 campaign have been rapidly escalating.
Besides all that, nothing to see here.
Obviously, Ryan knew what he was doing. He has played a curious role throughout the deranged GOP primary, popping up now and then to give vaguely worded criticisms of one Donald Trump comment or another, and then receding into the background. But in the past week, as the chances of a brokered Republican convention have spiked, Ryan's name has kept popping up.
The scenario is simple enough: the Republicans get to Cleveland, Donald Trump can't get a majority of delegates to back him, and instead of going with runner-up Ted Cruz—who, unlike Ryan, has actually been winning lots of votes and primaries—the party installs Ryan as its savior for November. Ryan then presumably sails across America, uniting the people behind his cheerful conservative vision.
Of course, as with everything about Republican politics, this has relatively little to do with substance. Despite Ryan's gee-whiz persona, he's the most right-wing House Speaker in decades, with a well-documented devotion to Ayn Rand and a long history of pushing extreme economic proposals.
No, Ryan is really attractive because the GOP machine thinks that he'll do what Marco Rubio, that other alleged youthful optimist, couldn't. Rubio was supposed to be able to cloak his decidedly conservative vision in a gentle rhetorical sweater, to woo people with his boyishness and his charm. He failed miserably, of course, but unlike him, Ryan wouldn't have to subject himself to the whims of the Republican electorate, so that problem would be fixed.
Ryan is currently playing the same coy games about the presidency that he played with the speakership. Then, he went from absolutely being against the idea to making it clear that he would only take the job if he could be crowned without a fight to getting what he wanted and taking the job. Sound familiar?
There's one big problem with all of this, though: The presidency is not the speakership. Ryan's potential backers, are kidding themselves if they think the sight of the will of the voters being so totally defied will go down easily, either at the convention or in a general election campaign. The problem with the Republican Party is that it's hopelessly divided and unable to figure out how to deal with the repercussions of its decades of political extremism. Paul Ryan is not going to be able to change that by running roughshod over the democratic process. The notion that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz supporters will quietly assent to such a thing seems completely absurd—and really, why should they go along with that sort of hijacking? Frankly, it's a wonder that Ryan appears to be contemplating a 2016 run at all. He'd be better staying far, far away from the whole unhinged mess. But in the meantime, he should stop putting out quasi-campaign videos that are too clever by half. Either run, or don't.