Two fairly interesting things happened over the course of this last week or so.
First, the decision by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to come out and unequivocally announce that he will not seek or accept the Republican nomination for president. Second, the rapidly intensifying war between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton, which while not quite at Trumpian levels, is certainly getting pretty nasty.
First, let’s look at the decision by Congressman Ryan to not run. Paul Ryan is perhaps the most level-headed and nuanced Republican thinker in the Congress today. He is not a populist, he does not employ ridiculous and over- the-top rhetoric and he is unafraid to reach out across the aisle to get things done.
He has a well-developed and reasonable plan for reforming the federal budget, and during this tumultuous primary campaign the Speaker has often been a voice of reason and moderation on the right, acting as a counter-weight to the fiery Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, and the racist misogynist millionaire Donald “The Donald” Trump. These are all admirable things.
However, in this year of the anti- establishment candidate (between Trump, Cruz and Sanders the “anti-establishment” forces have dominated this election cycle so far) all of these things would likely be counted against the current Speaker of the House, without even considering the fact that many in the conservative grassroots predominantly associate Ryan with Mitt Romney and his brutal loss to Barack Obama in 2012. All that said, sitting it out and waiting until 2020 or 2024 is probably a very smart move by a very smart man.
Second, let us briefly consider this rhetorical warming between the Democratic candidates. After calling out Hillary Clinton last week by declaring her “unqualified” to be president – a claim which he quickly walked back – Bernie Sanders stuck again this week, accusing his opponent of being in the pocket of the “billionaire class” at a rally yesterday due to amount of Super PAC money her campaign has taken advantage of. Clinton, for her part, was quite happy to strike back. If there is anything those in politics know about the Clintons, it is that they love to strike back and to strike back hard. In an interview with Politico’s Glen Thrush last week, the former Secretary said she understood some of the problems which Sanders is having because “He’s a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I’m not even sure he is one. He’s running as one. So I don’t know quite how to characterize him.” Ouch. Clinton piled on further this week while addressing voters in New York City, accusing Sanders once more of helping to contribute to gun violence during his time in the Senate, a common line of attach from the Clinton camp this year.
What is so fascinating about all of this sparring is that the Democrats were originally so committed to being polite this year, attempting to draw a contrast between themselves and the ridiculousness which has been the Republican primary. However as the race has heated up, so has the rhetoric as Clinton starts to feel the squeeze, and America starts to feel the Bern. It will be fascinating to see how things unfold after New York.