Open Thread: Paul Ryan Is Not Running for President… Just Yet

The Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver is not going away. Jim Newell, at Slate — “Paul Ryan Still Refuses to Be President. But Who’s Asking?”

… Though the industry of pundit lapdogs who fawn over Ryan as the sexiest thing in right-of-center wonkery since the Laffer curve will buy his noble self-effacement about how it would simply be improper to accept the job without having run, there’s certainly another factor that suggests he really means it: Unlike the speaker’s election, he believes he would lose the presidential election.

It is very difficult for members of Ryan’s fan club to understand that outside of elite Republican donor circles, the pages of Beltway publications, and the green rooms of Sunday morning chat shows, Ryan is not that popular of a politician. Before Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Ryan—as the author of budgets that slashed entitlements and discretionary spending programs—was the poster boy for Democratic opposition to the obstructionist right. This was just a few years ago…

Ryan is no more popular with Democrats now, of course, but he’s also not as popular with the Republican base now that he’s a member of the supposedly do-nothing, amnesty-loving congressional leadership. Those brewing negative feelings among the base would almost certainly explode if Ryan, having competed in no primaries, were to swoop in at the convention and “steal” the nomination from either Trump or Cruz. Ryan may not be the epitome of serious policy thinking that his elite adorers imagine him to be—he’s basically the personification of elite Republican donors’ interests—but he does have a considerably sounder political mind than they do, and that’s why he wants nothing to do with this hot mess.

Jon Chait, in NYMag, on “Paul Ryan’s Magical-Realism Campaign”:

Paul Ryan’s shadow campaign for the presidency is well under way, and the visible portion peeking above the surface — message videos and gravitas-conferring overseas trips — conceals a larger whisper campaign submerged beneath the surface. If Donald Trump fails to win a majority of pledged delegates on the first ballot, and if Ted Cruz fails to organize a majority on a subsequent ballot, a disorderly and panicked party would almost automatically turn to its recognized leader as the candidate. Alternatively, should either Trump or Cruz win the nomination, Republicans running down-ballot will need a less toxic brand. In which case, Ryan will assume his role as de facto party leader, supplying a friendlier-sounding message for Republicans in blue and purple states…

Chait points at the NYTimes‘ centrist mooning over Ryan’s “Mirage Candidacy”

… Mr. Ryan is creating a personality and policy alternative to run alongside the presidential effort — one that provides a foundation to rebuild if Republicans splinter and lose in the fall. “He is running a parallel policy campaign,” said Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina.

He is shaping an agenda that he plans to roll out right before the convention, a supplement of sorts to the official party platform. He gives regular speeches on politics and policy — particularly on poverty and economic issues — then backs them up in the news media.
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Saturday Evening Horrorshow: Ex-Speaker Denny Hastert (R)

On the one hand, this feels like pious voyeurism. On the other hand, his Repub fellows voted Hastert Speaker (to replace Newt Gingrich, who’d run into trouble over his own sexual/financial shenanigans) while grandstanding about that vile man Bill Clinton, who’d ‘taken advantage’ of a twenty-three-year old intern — a mere child, misled by a powerful older man, we were assured. More importantly, He’s old, he’s sick, he’s very sorry for what happened all those many years ago, is it really important we lock up some poor grampa who’ll never have the opportunity to re-offend? is the argument made every time another Catholic priest or other authority figure is exposed… and the near-universal answer from their victims seems to be “Yes, it’s important.”

From the Chicago Sun-Times, in his old stomping grounds:

The man who was once second in line to the presidency sexually abused five students while a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School decades ago, according to a new court filing by federal prosecutors.

A sentencing memorandum filed late Friday finally ripped back the curtain on damning sexual abuse claims at the heart of an indictment leveled against Hastert last May — claims that haunted the former U.S. House Speaker enough that he paid a fortune to hide them from the world…

Attorney Steven Block wrote. “While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them.”

Hastert’s sentencing day will be the worst of his life, his lawyers have acknowledged. They have asked for probation for the ailing, once-beloved 74-year-old pariah in an apologetic plea for mercy filed Wednesday. Hastert has pleaded guilty only to a financial crime…

Politico includes a wealth of detail:

[E]ven as the prosecution laid out damaging claims that Hastert made sexual contact with at least three members of the wrestling team under the guise of giving them massages, the government stopped short of calling for prison time for the former speaker as a result of his guilty plea last year to a felony charge that he broke a federal law on reporting cash transactions while paying hush money to one of the former students.

The sentencing filing from prosecutors Friday night revealed that when the FBI first learned that Hastert was withdrawing large sums of cash from his bank accounts, he claimed he was being extorted by one of the former students. He even cooperated with the FBI in a sting operation of sorts by making recorded telephone calls to the unnamed man. Prosecutors said that Hastert did not follow the FBI agents’ instructions about what to tell the man and that the man’s “language and demeanor were inconsistent with an individual extorting defendant through threats.”
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Open Thread: The Backpfeifengesicht SCOTUS Candidate

Important alert from Ed Kilgore, at NYMag — “Why Right-Wingers Want Sen. Mike Lee on SCOTUS”:

The Republican battle to make Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland go away, and the efforts to pin down GOP presidential candidates on pre-vetted lists of potential Supremes, have all led to increased speculation about the next justice. At present, there’s a major boom among conservatives for Senator Mike Lee of Utah.

Today the Washington Post‘s James Hohmann offers a rundown on all the reasons Lee is enjoying this attention. For one thing, the Utah senator has long been considered Ted Cruz’s best friend in the upper chamber, so if Cruz is elected, it’s a bit of a no-brainer if Lee wants a robe. For another, Lee would probably have an easier time getting confirmed by his colleagues in the clubby Senate than some law professor or circuit-court judge, and might even avoid a Democratic filibuster (assuming Republicans haven’t already killed the SCOTUS filibuster via the “nuclear option”)…

… If nominated next year for the Scalia seat, Lee would be the youngest nominee since Clarence Thomas, who has now been on the Court for nearly a quarter of a century, with many years of extremism probably still ahead of him… For conservatives seeking a permanent grip on the Court and on constitutional law, someone Lee’s age is money.

But the second reason Lee would be significant is only hinted at by Hohmann in the praise lavished on the solon by the Heritage Foundation and longtime right-wing legal thinker Senator Jeff Sessions (the two most likely sources for SCOTUS advice for Donald Trump, as it happens). Lee’s not just any old “constitutional conservative”; he’s a leading exponent of what is called the Lochner school of constitutional theory, named after the early-twentieth-century decision that was the basis for SCOTUS invalidation of New Deal legislation until the threat of court-packing and a strategic flip-flop resolved what had become a major constitutional crisis.

Lee has, on occasion, suggested that child labor laws, Social Security, and Medicare are unconstitutional, because they breach the eternal limits on federal power sketched out by the Founders. Like most Lochnerians, he views the constitution and the courts as designed to keep democratic majorities from stepping on the God-given personal and property rights of individuals and corporations alike. So it’s no surprise he’s been a bitter critic of the deferential view towards Congress expressed by Chief Justice Roberts in the decision that saved Obamacare.

In effect, Mike Lee could become a more influential successor to Clarence Thomas — after overlapping with Thomas on the Court for a decade or two. If Democratic senators have a problem with that possibility, they might want to begin making noises about it so that at least the supposition that Lee is pretty easily confirmable may be called into question.

That Hohmann article is well worth reading, too, if you want all the gory details. Looks like the Repubs are prepared to do a lot worse than Judge Garland…

Excellent Read: “The GOP’s Default Messiah”

gop jump from trump to cruz toles

(Tom Toles via

Jeet Heer, at TNR, asks whether Ted Cruz “can knit together a coalition of purists and pragmatists”:

… In January, before he pulled the plug on his own presidential campaign, Senator Lindsey Graham spoke for many Republicans when he said the choice between Cruz and Donald Trump was “like being shot or poisoned. What does it really matter?” Yet by the end of March, Graham had come around to accepting Cruz as the more palatable evil. “He’s not completely crazy,” Graham noted on The Daily Show, explaining why he joined the “Ted train.” Returning to his older metaphor, Graham added, “Donald is like being shot in the head. You might find an antidote to poisoning, I don’t know, but maybe there’s time.”

The backhandedness of Graham’s endorsement illustrates the key problem Cruz will face even if he wins in Wisconsin. Hardline conservatives are Cruz’s core base. But to move beyond his current status in second place and secure the nomination, he needs to attract many more people like Graham, who have a history of animosity toward him. In effect, Cruz’s path to victory means combining two completely opposed constituencies. And they just happen to be constituencies that he’s worked hard to set in opposition against each other.

If Cruz is able to pull off this seemingly impossible balancing act, it’ll be thanks to a quality he rarely gets enough credit for, his wholesale cynicism. Cruz is so surrounded by animosity that it is rarely noted that there are two contradictory accounts given as to why, beyond his personality, he is so odious.

Many liberals and moderate conservatives see Cruz as a fanatic, a true believer who is willing to enact extreme policies like the government shutdown in order to advance his dogmatic vision. This was the Cruz portrayed by Jeffrey Toobin in a 2014 New Yorker profile titled “The Absolutist.”

Yet some Republicans who share Cruz’s professed conservative politics don’t see him as an ideologue at all. They view him as a cynic who craftily adopted their worldview out of self-interest, to win over the faction he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination…

… It might be in Cruz’s best interest to drop a few hints to the establishment that he’s not the purist ideologue that some have made him out to be, that he’s more Tallyrand than Robespierre, more crafty Stalin than true-believing Trotsky. This would mean encouraging others to have an even lower opinion of his morals, but a higher opinion of his pragmatism. Such an overture to the establishment might overcome any lingering doubts the Lindsey Grahams types have and make them truly eager to join the “Ted train.” …

Sunday Evening Open Thread: Rooting for Injuries

gop rhetorical question sheneman

(Drew Sheneman via

Lest we forget, at least us Dems aren’t faced with a choice between #1 candidate Gross Evil, #2 candidate Smarmy Evil & #3 candidate Bland Evil. From the Washington Post, “In chaotic GOP race, an intense battle for delegates plays out under the radar”:

FARGO, N.D. — For months, Bette Grande has tapped into her network of fellow conservative activists, pushing them to join her in supporting Ted Cruz for president. She has also laid the groundwork for a campaign of her own — to win a coveted spot as a delegate representing Cruz at this summer’s national party convention.

Grande’s work is coming to a head this weekend at a Ramada hotel and sports center, plastered with campaign merchandise, as North Dakota Republicans meet to choose the 25 delegates they will send to Cleveland in July. The priority for Grande, whether or not she wins a delegate ticket, is to make sure that those who do are committed backers of the senator from Texas.

“Until the slate of delegates is set, we’re calling or emailing everyone,” said Grande, who has juggled her work for Cruz with her duties picking up her grandson at day care.

In any ordinary year, this would be an obscure and suspense-free process, in which local party regulars are rewarded with tickets to the convention in order to focus on partying and casting a pro-forma vote for the presumptive GOP nominee.

But this is no ordinary year. The growing likelihood that front-runner Donald Trump will not secure the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination has forced the candidates to prepare for a once-unimaginable prospect: The nomination could be settled at a contested convention…

Most delegates who arrive in Cleveland will be pledged to certain candidates for the first round of voting, based primarily on the results of primaries and caucuses. But on a second ballot, many of the convention’s 2,472 delegates would be freed up to cast another vote.

The prospect of multiple ballots was an issue Saturday in Tennessee, where tensions flared as the state Republican Party finalized its list of delegates. Trump adviser Barry Bennett said he was “disappointed” that the state party did not follow through on what he thought was an agreement to pick Trump delegates that the campaign recommended. State GOP executive director Brent Leatherwood denied that there was any deal or that the party tried to harm Trump…

Apart from sweet schadenfreude, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up the weekend?