Friday

November 17th, 2017

Insight

Will Paul Ryan follow James Polk's playbook?

Albert Hunt

By Albert Hunt

Published Oct. 22, 2015

Will Paul Ryan follow James Polk's playbook? 
James K. Polk, the only House speaker elected president.

Republican presidential aspirants often hold up Ronald Reagan as a model. For Democrats, it's Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. No one cites James K. Polk.

That may change if Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin becomes speaker of the House. Most Republicans assume that the 45-year-old lawmaker, who was Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012, will seek the presidency someday. Only one House speaker has been elected president: Polk, in 1844.

Becoming speaker would shape any future presidential prospects for Ryan, who announced Tuesday evening that he would be willing to seek the job if Republicans made a commitment to unify behind him. "This is not a job I've ever wanted," he said, adding that he wanted an answer from fellow Republicans by the end of the week.

Former Republican Representative Vin Weber, a close colleague of Ryan's, said that despite the singular record of speakers who became president, taking the post would "enhance" Ryan's White House prospects: "How many presidents have been elected from the Ways and Means Committee?"

As speaker, Ryan would be the dominant figure in the party. If he is able to forge and maintain a semblance of unity in the unruly House Republican Caucus, it would be a real achievement.

Yet if he is forced to tilt further right to achieve that goal, it might pose more problems for any subsequent national run.

And if a Speaker Ryan ended up suffering the same fate as John Boehner-- simply unable to manage the disparate party elements in the House -- the job might even be a disqualifier for future ambitions. Much, however, would depend on which party occupies the White House after 2016. If a Speaker Ryan is credited with securing passage of a Republican president's agenda, and helping to shape it, it would be a strong calling card, say in 2024 when Ryan will be 54, the same age as President Barack Obama today.

But if a Democrat is elected next year and Ryan still is speaker, it may be, to cite Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again.

Polk, who many historians rate as a near great president though he only served one term, was speaker for four years, the first two when his mentor, Andrew Jackson, was president. By contrast, his later tenure as governor of Tennessee was a failure. He lost his re-election as well as a later bid. He recouped somehow to win the presidency in 1844.

"His only real political success before the presidency was as speaker," said Robert W. Merry, author of "A Country of Vast Designs," an acclaimed biography of Polk. "He had his detractors but he never shied from controversy."


Previously:
10/20/15: If only Trey Gowdy could meet with Sam Ervin
10/13/15: Voters don't like revisiting the trials and tribulations of Clintonland --- but that doesn't mean Hillary can't win
09/23/15: Why Jimmy Carter couldn't win the South today
09/17/15: Gov. John Kasich's standout record in Ohio
09/03/15: Republicans chart 4 paths to stopping Trump
08/31/15: Here's how Biden-Warren sort of makes sense
08/28/15:Trump upends New Hampshire's substantive tradition
08/26/15:Jeb Bush is hugging the wrong president George
08/24/15: Underestimating Ted Cruz? That's a mistake
08/19/15: US holds steady in a world of economic trouble
08/12/15: Who will capture Iowa conservatives after Trump?
08/10/15: Debate fireworks that won’t make much impact
07/29/15: A plea for conservatives to speak from the heart
07/09/15: Ex-Im Bank's undeserved rap for crony capitalism
06/24/15: All presidential candidates should be in debates
06/03/15: Foreign policy traps await Republicans and Hillary
06/01/15: It's small stuff that wrecks presidential runs
02/04/15: Can Walker be president without a college degree?

Comment by clicking here.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News, directing coverage of the Washington bureau. Hunt hosts the weekly television show "Political Capital with Al Hunt." In his four decades at the Wall Street Journal, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor, and wrote the weekly column "Politics & People." Hunt also directed the Journal's polls, was president of the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund and a board member of the Ottaway community newspapers. He was a panelist on the CNN programs "The Capital Gang" and "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He is co-author of books on U.S. elections by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles