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Paul Ryan Is a Near-Certainty to Be the Next Speaker of the House, but the Conservative Movement Is Still Divided


“Paul Ryan is Boehner 2.0, except worse."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol on October 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. Ryan has said he is willing to be the next Speaker of the House if all House Republicans endorse him for the position. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appears well on his way to be the next speaker of the House, but not without a divided conservative movement, many who lack trust for the one-time conservative darling who was previously considered a champion of Tea Party values.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan sought entitlement reforms, and as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he has sought to overhaul the tax code.

His rating with the American Conservative Union has taken a recent hit: while still holding a 90-percent lifetime rating, his annual rating has dropped to 80 percent. Conservative Review gives Ryan a “Liberty Score” of 58 percent, or an F.

Some conservatives contend that Ryan has been strong on conservative policy, but is also typically there when the Republican establishment has needed him.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) arrives for a House Republican caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol, Oct. 21, 2015. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Still others insist the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee is the ideal choice for speaker.

“I know he is a hardcore conservative. He is the same guy he was 20 years ago when we were both congressional staffers,” ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp told TheBlaze. “He is in Washington for big reforms to the tax code, to entitlements, to how Washington spends money and how it thinks about spending money.”

Schlapp, a former White House political director for President George W. Bush, said Ryan's declining ranking resulted from his opposition to the Cuban embargo, and his support of the bank and auto bailouts in 2008.

Ryan has also been criticized for his support of immigration reform that would bestow legal status to some 11 milliion illegal immigrants in the United States.

This does not warrant an F from any scorekeeper, Schlapp argued.

“It’s unfair for someone with Paul Ryan’s record to get an F like Nancy Pelosi,” Schlapp said. “There is a difference between Jim Jordan's and Paul Ryan's votes and that’s fair. An F implies he isn’t for protecting the unborn, that he doesn’t stand up for the Second Amendment, that he isn't for cutting taxes, that he doesn’t want to investigate President Obama.”

A supermajority of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, widely considered to have some role in pushing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign, is supporting Ryan.

Still other conservative activists believe Ryan wouldn’t be any improvement from Boehner.

“Paul Ryan is Boehner 2.0, except worse. Boehner didn't keep his promises, but at least he made them,” Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica, said in a statement.

“Ryan is making no promises to do anything to advance a conservative agenda,” Bozell said. “He is demanding a mafioso-style loyalty oath to his moderate agenda. He has promised nothing, nothing at all to advance the conservative cause. No wonder he has an ‘F’ conservative rating. He's demanding conservatives support him. No wonder Obama and [Democratic Senate Leader Harry] Reid and Pelosi like him. House Republicans can and must do better than him.”

There has been a notable shift in the perception surrounding Ryan.

In 2011, many movement conservatives were interested in seeing him step up to run for president. Conservative dismay over eventual 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney was somewhat relieved when Ryan was added to the ticket.

So what happened?

Conservatives aren’t upset with Ryan any more than they were upset with Boehner, said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist. The group is remaining neutral on the House leadership races.

“What you have is people very frustrated that we haven’t been able to pass the Ryan plan because Mitt Romney forgot to win the election,” Norquist said. “Boehner passed the bills out of the House. It’s a tough jam as long as you have Barack Obama as president. Removing Boehner was not going to solve the problem we had before. They are not mad at Ryan. They were not really mad at Boehner. They are frustrated with the inability to get past a Senate filibuster or an Obama veto.”

Still, talk radio host Mark Levin played a Ryan interview from 2012 in which Ryan said, “We can get 85 percent of this [Obamacare] for sure repealed through reconciliation.” Levin pointed out that now since Republicans control the Senate, this has not been attempted through the budget reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, Tea Party Patriots CEO Jenney Beth Martin also contends Ryan could only be a continuation of the current House Republican leadership.

“Without change, we’re just pouring old wine into a new bottle,” Martin wrote in a Politico op-ed. “Election by acclamation speaks of the arrogance of the Republican establishment that led to the current turmoil. But that’s no surprise – Ryan is as much a part of the House GOP leadership as you can get without actually having been selected for an elected leadership position.”

Norquist insisted that Ryan deserves credit for bringing entitlement reforms into the political debate the same way former Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) put tax cuts on the agenda.

“Paul Ryan did for entitlement reform and spending restraint what Kemp did for supply-side economics. He went person to person, congressman to congressman and he sold his plan,” Norquist said. “While Kemp was sometimes accused of being one sided or one dimensional tax cuts, what Ryan did was very similar except it had more moving parts, Medicare, Medicaid, various block grants. And that is in some ways more difficult than what Kemp did. But he stands on Kemp’s shoulders. He built on Kemp’s accomplishments.”

Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, said it will be key that the next speaker is willing to fight, and offered a mixed but mostly positive assessment of Ryan.

“Despite his background on immigration, grassroots conservatives generally see Ryan as a nationally known figure, with the stature, composure and experience to be an effective speaker able to unite and lead the house out of the current morass,” Meckler said in a statement. “They want a speaker who will balance the budget, take action on tax reform, decrease the size of government and lead the conference with strength rather than cutting deals with Democrats.”

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