Donald Trump is too arrogant and too politically naive to recognize many things about his position as the 45th president. However, one reality is clear: his political life is in the hands of Paul Ryan.
This reality is not due to any particular strength of Paul Ryan. It derives from the powers of the Speaker of the House, and Ryan’s decisions in that role. The reality is especially potent with a President under examination for what appears to be collusion with the Russian president.
One fact immediately stands out. The House Speaker is solely responsible for launching impeachment proceedings against a President.
As the third most powerful figure in elected politics, Paul Ryan can make or break this President. He appoints the chair of all select committees and conferences, including the House Intelligence committee now investigating the Trump-Russia connection. It is Ryan who will decide whether to keep Devin Nunes, who is under pressure to recuse himself for his partisan protection of the President. Ryan’s power here is significant. Should he decide to let Nunes go and replace him with a member with no love or loyalty to the 45th, then Trump’s fate becomes a fragile thing.
Ryan’s choice of Nunes, a former member of the Trump transition team, is both partisan and protective. Trump owes his continued office to Paul Ryan, and his pick of Nunes. However, should the popularity of 45 continue in its downward spiral, and public opposition continue in its loud, upward climb, Ryan may break that crucial tie of loyalty.
If Ryan chooses to oust Nunes as committee head, and replace him with say, Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen then it’s the beginning of the end for the House of Trump. The Miami-based Representative falls in with the moderate arm of the Republican House, and does not hesitate to break with the party line. She voiced public opposition to the recently failed health care bill, and in 2013, she criticized her party’s government shutdown as political posturing. Ros-Lehtinen, born in Cuba, is a longtime critic of the dictatorship in Venezuela. And, she has no connection to the Trump team. Her ideology would make her a House Intel leader unafraid to pursue the depths of the Trump-Russia connection and incipient authoritarianism.
The House Intel committee is not the vehicle to displace the President. That will be the Judiciary committee, which decides whether there are grounds for a vote on impeachment. Again, Paul Ryan is the man who plays a key role. He designates the chair of the Judiciary committee, and if he has allowed the Intelligence committee full rein, then it is likely there will be sufficient evidence to sway that body. It is then up to the full House to vote on impeachment. Once that is a fait accompli, it goes to the Senate for trial and conviction (or acquittal).
Here is a good place to remind readers that should Trump be removed from office, Ryan would be a strong contender for the office of Vice President, an office appointed by the new president, Pence. Political ambition is a powerful force for anyone in D.C. and the Speaker is no exception. That motivation would also apply to GOP members whose political standing (and future) is stained by the current President. Suffice it to say, the Republicans will abide Trump until he becomes the proverbial albatross around their necks.
But Trump is already creating a divide. In reaction to the healthcare bill failure, he pointed the finger at the GOP’s House Freedom caucus, the moderate Tuesday group and the Democrats. In other words, this dark horse President is limping out of the gate in last place, and blaming everyone else for his loss. Political capital has been squandered. Bridges have been undermined. Trump talks big about “loyalty” yet he managed to alienate significant voting blocs with his blame game, including a pointed threat to Paul Ryan vis-a-vis FOX’s Judge Jeanine who called for Ryan’s resignation.
Trump may or may not recognize that Ryan is the key to his future. Regardless, threats and accusations do not endear Trump to the policy wonk guy who controls the body that acts on impeachment. And for those who doubt Ryan’s ability to marshal his majority caucus, one reality must be kept in focus – the 2018 midterms. Strategizing is well underway. When it becomes clear that Trump is spoiling their chances for re-election, then careers will trump ideology.
The Speaker of the House is also responsible for setting the legislative agenda. It is significant that in preparing the healthcare bill, Ryan originally wrote it to appease the moderates rather than the extremists. The deal-breaking additions were added to mollify the right wingers of his party. This sequence has been attacked by Trump allies. Yet, Ryan’s preference and appeal to the calmer influences may be a harbinger of things to come. And that does not bode well for Trump, who is definitely not perceived as a centrist by his fan base. Tax reform, the next legislative item on the agenda, could break out as another failure for Trump.
We can only surmise whether Paul Ryan will sabotage Trump’s campaign promises through bills that die on the House Floor. However, he is the policy wonk. He is the insider, and he knows exactly what he is doing. Should Trump’s image of “deal maker” become nothing more than empty boasts, then 45 loses the support of the voters. And that is his last leg of support. When that occurs, it will be time to move in for the kill.
Keep your eye on the guy who professed not to want the Speaker’s position.