An unnamed businessman with close ties to the Wisconsin Tea Party is mounting a primary challenge against Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Conservatives in Ryan’s district feel betrayed by his inking a $2 trillion budget deal with President Obama and the Democrats. That action set off a search that resulted in tagging a wealthy businessman to go against Ryan in the primary on August 9.
The emergence of a viable Republican challenger in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District is the culmination of a monthslong recruitment effort by tea party activists who say they were double-crossed by Mr. Ryan when he passed a $2 trillion spending package late last year.
Eric Odom, a conservative activist and political consultant in Wisconsin, confirmed with “100 percent certainty” that a local business leader would be running to oust Mr. Ryan.
“I’ve had the privilege of attending multiple meetings with this individual, during which he has expressed his sense of betrayal by Speaker Ryan. He has a strong desire to see real representation for the people of the district versus a congressman who represents special interests in Washington,” he said.
“It’s very personal for him,” Mr. Odom added. “He intends to run a full-scale candidacy that will shake up the establishment in a profound way.”
He acknowledged that it won’t be easy to defeat Mr. Ryan, who was the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, currently ranks as one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington and has more than $5 million in his campaign war chest.
The businessman is prepared to put a substantial amount of his personal fortune into the campaign, Mr. Odom said.
“He was pushed to the edge and betrayed,” he said.
While it’s often an uphill run, there is precedent for a tea party challenger toppling 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 did not seek the speakership but was drafted by conservative and mainstream House Republicans who saw him as a unifying figure who could mend the divide in the conference.
Still, the discontent on the homefront for Mr. Ryan is part of the ongoing tension between conservatives who want aggressive action to implement a right-wing agenda and party leaders who have taken a measured approach.
Ryan ignores this challenge at his peril. A candidate willing to put a couple of million dollars of his own money into a campaign cannot be dismissed – especially since so many conservatives have been bitterly disappointed in Ryan’s speakership.
But Ryan is not without friends and resources. His $5 million war chest could easily double over the next few months, allowing him to build a first-class organization that could beat back the challenge. Whoever this businessman is, he faces a daunting task of turning that anger against Ryan into primary votes.