House Speaker Paul Ryan keeps insinuating that he won't run for president, even though his recent political actions have suggested differently. But should the Republican Party end up in a contested convention this summer, Ryan is a good candidate to unite -- or at least, to lessen the bad blood between -- the pro-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and anti-Trump factions of the party in time for the general election.
Plenty of pundits and commentators have already noted how 'presidential' Ryan is in comparison to both Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is widely viewed as being too far right to be a viable candidate. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post noted that Ryan is very informed on foreign policy -- a trait he sure does not share with Trump -- and unlike Trump or Cruz, he is widely respected by both mainstream, 'establishment' Republicans and the Tea Party alike. Only 9 Republicans voted against his speakership last year.
And yet, the question needs to be asked: How would the nomination of an individual who is currently not running for president and who has won no states in the 2016 primaries not do permanent damage to a Republican Party which has received outsized turnout in the primaries because of Donald Trump? Despite the fact that Trump is undoubtedly a divisive figure while Ryan has served more as a uniter, wouldn't his nomination over Trump simply breed more divisiveness into the process and in doing so, destroy Ryan's reputation as a uniter?
I certainly believe a Ryan bid for the presidency has the potential to be divisive, but it truly depends how well Trump does in the weeks and months leading to the convention; if he is nearing or close to the 1,237 delegates needed for him to get the nomination, then a ticket without Trump on it may be devastating to the party no matter what kind of post-convention unity plan the establishment comes up with.
If, on the other hand, Trump is far short of the delegates he needs to win -- he is currently at 737 -- then Ryan is well-positioned to make a move. This would occur if the party denied the nomination to both Trump and Cruz, in which case the sense of rage and betrayal among the party's base is going to be palpable, as New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait notes.
Ryan is the ideal candidate for this position, and is honestly probably the only person in the Republican Party who may be able to pull off such a trick. He has reached out privately to Trump while simultaneously pursuing a high-minded effort in trying to move the Republican Party forward and in working with the president, although partisanship remains incredibly high.
And Ryan is most likely going to make a play at some point during this election season, particularly if a brokered convention occurs, and it looks like there is no way to keep the various wings of the party united. If he was not going to run or had no intention of pursuing the party's nomination at a brokered convention, he would have simply issued some sort of 'Sherman statement' by now ("If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve"). He hasn't done so, signaling his ambition to get into the race at some point if the convention becomes chaotic.