Fallout continues for Speaker Paul Ryan for his shepherding the nearly $2 trillion spending bill through Congress earlier this month. It now appears that Tea Party groups in Wisconsin, as well as several-high profile national pundits, are looking to primary Ryan for the 2016 campaign.
The hunt is on to find a suitable conservative candidate who can beat Mr. Ryan, who received 94 percent of the vote in the 2014 primary in his district, which sits against the Illinois border in the southeastern part of the state.
“There are people who are seriously looking for that,” said James Murphy, founder of Green Bay Tea Party. “There is a sympathetic ear to having someone beat him.”
The Ryan campaign team in Wisconsin has shrugged off the threats, treating them as mere talk in the absence of a viable candidate to mount a challenge in the district.
However, there is precedent for a tea party challenger to topple a member of the House Republican leadership. Eric Cantor, while serving as majority leader, lost his seat in a Richmond, Virginia, suburb in a 2014 primary upset to tea-party-backed Dave Brat.
However, Mr. Ryan’s predecessor as speaker, John A. Boehner, easily defeated a tea-party-backed primary challenger the same year in Ohio. At the time, Mr. Boehner faced widespread opposition from conservatives and a revolt in the House Republican conference, which ultimately prompted him to resign in October.
Mr. Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for vice president, did not seek the speakership but was drafted by conservative and establishment members who saw him as a unifying figure who could mend the divide in the conference.
Still, the discontent on the home front for Mr. Ryan is part of ongoing tension between conservatives who want aggressive action to rein in Mr. Obama’s agenda and party leaders who have taken a measured approach.
Ken Crow, a tea party activist in Iowa, gave voice to the dissatisfaction in a blog post calling for a grass-roots uprising to unseat Mr. Ryan.
“If this Omnibus bill is any sort of indication of the way Speaker Ryan is going to govern, it is time to do what ‘Barney Fife’ told us to do so many years ago, ‘NIP-IT, NIP-IT’ in the bud now!” Mr. Crow wrote.
He continued: “All patriots should contact your group leaders and begin organizing nationwide to put down this RINO in order that he is not re-elected to his seat in Wisconsin. The Badger State patriots need to begin soliciting your State Senators, high-profile business leaders or the State Legislators who reside within the 1st District of Wisconsin.”
Ryan represents a district with a mix of social and fiscal conservative voters, and old-line union voters who have taken to his affable ways. But this could spell trouble for him in 2016. The key isn’t necessarily how unpopular he is with the right. It will ultimately come down to whether conservatives can induce a viable candidate to challenge him, and then unite behind that candidate. This is the Dave Brat scenario, which worked when Brat upset Eric Cantor.
The difference may be that Cantor was an arrogant SOB while Ryan has spent years cultivating a positive image. He has paid close attention to constituent services and is relatively popular in his district — even with the Reagan Democrats who give him a majority in his hometown of Janesville.
It’s a long shot to unseat him. But so was David Brat’s shot at beating Eric Cantor.