A conservative surge from Paul Ryan, Kentucky win

Story highlights

  • Hugh Hewitt: Republican Matt Bevin won a shocking upset for the governorship in Kentucky
  • Paul Ryan is the legislative leader the GOP needs, Hewitt says

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)In his first radio interview since becoming speaker of the House (the complete audio and transcript is here), Paul Ryan told me on Monday:

Hugh Hewitt
"Look, I see the whole shooting match coming up in 2016. Again, one of the reasons why I chose to do this, and one of the reasons, one of the conditions, more or less, I talked to my colleagues about, which is we've got to go on offense, big and bold, specific agenda and vision in 2016, and let the country choose, because the kind of an election we have to have is a mandate election."
The Wisconsin Republican had come to talk with me at the radio studio at Hillsdale College's Kirby Center, near Capitol Hill. In doing so he increased by one the number of times his predecessor, former Rep. John Boehner, had been interviewed by me or any other nationally broadcast conservative talk show host while he was speaker of the House. An interesting change in tactics, that one.
Boehner dutifully made the rounds of conservative media while rising to the speakership, then promptly abandoned the effort to talk to the Republican Party's core supporters and those independents and open-minded Democrats who listen to shows like mine.
Interviews and selling the party's agenda to an audience beyond his GOP caucus just wasn't how Boehner saw his job. Speaker Ryan promises a much-needed, night-and-day change there, one that foreshadows crucial change in the way Congress operates.
Ryan arrived early on Monday and joined Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, in a discussion of the Democratic debate and it promises regarding student loans, then stayed on after Cotton left talk about national defense, the "regular order" approach he is embracing for the House and, crucially, how congressional Republicans must assist the GOP field in framing the upcoming election.
Ryan used the interview to begin doing that specifically with the conservative base that listens to my show or reads the transcripts of interviews I post from it, just as he had done so for different audiences on the weekend shows the previous day.
Ryan, like his mentor, the late congressman and GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, is a gifted communicator and an ideas guy. He loves to talk policy, even with folks who disagree with him. Unlike most older Republican stalwarts on the Hill, even the ones deeply admired by conservatives, Ryan is also very, very good at it.
Ryan comes armed for the communications battles. He has been studying up for years, beginning with his undergraduate days at Miami University. His 2012 campaign as Mitt Romney's running mate infused him with name recognition no other member of the House can rival, and the speakership gives him a platform he can use every day to sell the conservative vision.
That he began to do so on the radio with me probably had more to do with paying a compliment to Hillsdale College, which is a lighthouse institution for conservatives, and its president Larry Arnn, who is one of the very few thought leaders respected across he conservative spectrum, than it did with me.
But the key facts are that Ryan knows the importance of Hillsdale, of Arnn, of conservative talk radio generally and of center-right media and conservative institutions all across the land. The new speaker knows he must sell ideas and help build conservative ideas infrastructure, just as Kemp did, and he is about the business of doing so. All conservatives should be thrilled about Ryan's rise -- and about other recent developments.
Matt Bevin wins Kentucky governorship
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Matt Bevin wins Kentucky governorship 01:37
Yesterday, Republican Matt Bevin won a shocking upset for the governorship in Kentucky. The GOP debates are drawing huge audiences no matter how well or poorly they are managed. There is good news for conservatives everywhere.
The GOP candidates are all experienced, effective communicators, and they don't have to conceal what they were doing or where they were during the Obama years. None of them has dismissed the VA scandal as "not as widespread" as the public has been led to believe. None of them has a scandal that is under FBI investigation. None of them lied about a video having anything to do with a terrorist attack.
Like Speaker Ryan and his friend RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, I don't have a favorite in the GOP race but, like both of them, I have an intense interest in seeing the GOP nominate its strongest candidate and in winning the presidency a year from now.
To do that, the GOP needed new voices, like Ryan's and Cotton's and Bevin's, to emerge with a message drawn from all the presidential candidates -- "We can fix this, we can make America great again, we can speak for and on behalf of all Americans, including all working Americans or Americans who want to find work, and we can rebuild our military and return the country to global leadership and renew the world's respect for us" -- without favoring any one candidate. Ryan especially can lead the House in crafting legislation that would await a new Republican's president's input and signature.
The GOP doesn't need a party platform when it has a platform in which to display its legislative agenda and a Speaker who can describe it with good humor, eloquence and a command of the details.
It has been a great week for the GOP, and though the mainstream media seems to have missed yet another major development in the race for the White House -- even as it mostly missed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's pratfall on the VA or her many "admissions against interest" in her 11 hours of testimony two weeks ago -- the reinforcements have arrived, in the Speaker's Office, in Kentucky and across the country.
Democrats feel a chill wind blowing. A year from now they will remember it beginning with Ryan's rise and Bevin's win.