Will tiny minority wreck Paul Ryan's bid for speaker?

Paul Ryan willing to be U.S. House speaker
Paul Ryan willing to be U.S. House speaker

    JUST WATCHED

    Paul Ryan willing to be U.S. House speaker

MUST WATCH

Paul Ryan willing to be U.S. House speaker 02:03

Story highlights

  • Hugh Hewitt: Paul Ryan is a gifted communicator House majority desperately needs
  • Hewitt: We'll know this week whether a tiny minority of Republicans are so self-destructive they'll wreck Ryan's bid

Hugh Hewitt is a lawyer, law professor, author and host of a nationally syndicated radio show. He served in the Reagan administration in posts, including assistant counsel in the White House and special assistant to two attorneys general. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)"All we are saying is give peace a chance."

John Lennon's famous anti-war refrain from the song "Give Peace a Chance" reached No. 14 on the Billboard charts in 1969 but never had the broad appeal to make it into the Top 10, much less No 1.
Hugh Hewitt
Richard Nixon's "silent majority" was, after all against retreat and defeat in Vietnam no matter how noisy or eccentrically appealing to various media elites. It could not be expected to provide the sales necessary to turn an anti-majoritarian symbol into the top-selling record of its day.
    Now a very different sort of rock star -- a political rock star and a Republican to boot, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- is pitching Lennon's message to the opposite of his core constituency and hoping for the success that eluded the British legend.
    Ryan has declared he is willing to be No. 1, but only if the entire GOP House caucus is willing to help keep him there for an extended, perhaps record-setting run. Ryan is running for speaker on a promise of peace within the GOP caucus and purpose in its agenda over the next many years, but he is demanding he be given a chance to deliver on that long-term goal by a medium-term commitment at least of loyalty to the party caucus. Pray that he succeeds.
    Between 80% and 90% of House Republicans are already sold on the idea and applauding wildly. The remaining members are divided between hard-core ideologues and those who think their districts demand they be understood to be hard-core ideologues. The question of the hour is would the 10% to 20% dare shatter the super-majority's desire for a unifying leader of demonstrated communication skills?
    If the GOP minority of a minority does bring about the crashing and burning of Ryan's appeal and his candidacy, it will be among the most self-destructive of political acts of modern times. Rarely would so few have managed to frustrate so many over so obscure a set of grievances.
    It could happen. Genuine conservatives who wish to dominate the House of Representatives for a generation have to hope Ryan succeeds and have to fight for him. Centrist Republicans who want him to succeed need truly to be quiet and sit down instead of needling every conservative with whom they have clashed over the past decade.
    Everyone, in short, needs to act in the best interests of the country. What a concept.
    The fissures running through the Republican caucus are many, but two dominate -- one of substance and one of style.
    The substantive issue on which Republicans divide in many directions is immigration, and specifically about (1) what to do about those in the country illegally and (2) when to build what sort of a fence along the southern border.
    What is odd about these arguments is that 90% of Republicans agree on 90% of the measures that need to be taken, but the amplification of small differences into paralysis has greatly advantaged the Democrats running for president and seeking to regain the majority in the U.S. Senate.
    The second fault line has to do with style. Outgoing Speaker John Boehner seems left over from another, pre-Internet era, almost allergic to attempts to persuade the American public, intent instead on "managing" his caucus and the House.
    The genuinely well-liked Boehner was simply woefully lacking in modern communication skills or even an awareness that they existed and were crucial to governing.
    That "inside baseball" had become the daily rations of millions of information hungry political junkies just never made an impact on the son of the Ohio barkeep with a propensity to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
    So now the GOP is being offered a speaker who is not only capable in the communication arts but also gifted. Ryan is not only talented in arguing his case, he is perhaps the most talented member in the House.
    But he is not a purist on immigration, not an absolutist on the demand for deportation and not even remotely interested in siding with those in the GOP who believe American exceptionalism is threatened by large in-migration of new Americans whether legally or through regularization of those who snuck in illegally or who overstayed their welcomes.
    Ryan is just not that into the issue, and to the extent he is, his inclinations are in the direction of Catholic social teaching, which is not surprising given Ryan's deep and fully embraced faith. (He is as anti-abortion as any member of the House.)
    So a truce has been offered: a period of what the English statesman Lord Salisbury called "masterly inactivity." It is a good deal for all, because absent a Republican president in the White House, border security assurances simply will not be believed, as President Barack Obama is not trusted by a large majority of the Republicans.
    Poll: New leadership in Congress won't fix Washington
    GOP Paul Ryan poll House Speaker leadership newday_00021420

      JUST WATCHED

      Poll: New leadership in Congress won't fix Washington

    MUST WATCH

    Poll: New leadership in Congress won't fix Washington 02:24
    Ryan is reported to have assured the caucus that immigration legislation is not in the cards this year or next. Good. Let the presidential candidates fight it out, as they did at the CNN-Salem Media Group debate in which I participated in September and as I am fairly certain they will do again at the future debates. The big issue isn't going away, and the debates about it will be loud and prolonged.
    But neither would Ryan as speaker have to solve it or even lead the discussion. Rather, he would have to get the much broader GOP agenda organized and articulated, and grab such wins as can be had when they are there for the getting.
    Ryan can accomplish much if he is given a chance. We will know by Friday whether the GOP is held hostage to a few or about to begin to conduct itself as a majority party with a plan beyond getting to the next recess.