When Congressman Jason Chaffetz announced he was running for speaker, most pundits, myself included, opined that it was a long shot. Think something like a football kicker lining up for a field goal from sixty yards out, into the wind.
In retrospect, maybe it’s because of that kick into the wind that we might win the game. But for Chaffetz, would we be talking about Congressman Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House?
In the chaos that followed, the factions of the Republican Party in the House dissolved into intense internal debate over who would be Speaker. With the scrum for the Speaker’s office hotly contested by disparate factions, it was anyone’s guess who might come out with the ball.
But still: A long shot. When Kevin McCarthy blew his lead with a series of gaffes, Chaffetz suddenly became both the only alternative and, unfortunately for Utah, unpalatable for a sufficient number of House Republicans to put him in the Speaker’s office.
Within a few short days, Rep. Paul Ryan became the Hill’s preferred alternative. He didn’t want the job, though, already happily working away in his dream post as Chair of the Ways & Means Committee, a place he felt like he could push the big ideas for structural change. With Republicans finding no apparent options around which to coalesce, though, Ryan finally announced he would run for Speaker if the House Republicans–including the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 35 conservatives that helped push John Boehner to resignation and greener
pastures golf courses in the first place–would support him as a consensus candidate.
“I’m out, and I’m supporting Paul Ryan,” Chaffetz said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “Part of the reason I was running was because Paul Ryan wasn’t.”
And maybe, just maybe, it was Chaffetz’s willingness to put his name on the line–as a protest to less competent leadership options–that opened the way for someone like Paul Ryan to take the reins of the House. Ryan is exactly the kind of politician that Democrats don’t want as the face of House Republicans: level-headed, wonky, focused on difficult and complicated issues such as entitlement reform, and, more than anything else, big ideas. In other words, everything that Donald Trump is not.
As a local Democratic strategist mentioned to me earlier this week, the Democratic Party has no parallel to Paul Ryan but, like a broken record, is stuck on policies virtually unchanged in decades, if not half a century.
While Chaffetz’s campaign for Speaker may have been short-lived and even quixotic (he said it would have been like capturing “lightning in a bottle”), he may have done us one better than serving as Speaker himself: He’s given us Paul Ryan, a level-headed, smart, and idea-driven politician and, possibly, one of the better personalities to consider the Speaker’s office in a while.