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A Scramble In The House Pushes Paul Ryan Back Into The Spotlight

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So who needs "House Of Cards" and "Scandal" when you've got real life? This has been a wild week for the Republican Party. In the last two days, the man who was widely expected to be the next speaker of the House, California congressman, Kevin McCarthy, abruptly dropped out of the race, and that started a movement for Wisconsin representative, Paul Ryan, to step in. He hasn't announced his decision, but the conventional wisdom seems to be that if he wants the job, it is his. For more on this, we called Neil Minkoff. He writes for The National Review Online. Neil, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

NEIL MINKOFF: Oh, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So Paul Ryan's name, as we mentioned, came up as perspective speaker almost immediately. Would you remind us of who he is and why he seems to be a leading contender right now?

MINKOFF: Well, Paul Ryan is a - been a rising star in the GOP for quite some time. He was the vice presidential running mate of Mitt Romney's. And he's taken seriously because he's one of those people who speaks very seriously, doesn't engage in a lot of hyperbole and seems very, very driven by economics and concerns about the budget, long-term concerns about the deficit and Medicare and has been a voice of reform for entitlement programs.

MARTIN: So it's been reported that Congressman Ryan is somewhat reluctant to take the job. We don't know that for a fact, but he is not one of the people who initially came forward. Do we have any sense of what his state of mind is about this?

MINKOFF: So, obviously, I don't what he's thinking, but if it were me, I'd be concerned that being the speaker of the House right now is being set up to fail. You are seen as the speed bump in two directions. So strict conservatives see you as being too willing to deal if you do anything bipartisan and unable to fulfill a conservative agenda, even though you're only the speaker of the House. And people who are more moderate, and certainly people from the other party, see you as being held hostage by the most conservative parts of your own party. So it's kind of a no-win situation right now, and his political fortunes may be better staying just on the Budget Committee and being one of these highly respected voices in D.C.

MARTIN: How does this sit with you right now? I mean, one of the advantages of talking to you is that you're not in Washington. I mean, you follow events in Washington, but you're not in Washington right now. Does it feel like this is a necessary process of sort of vetting people's real views and kind of - I don't know - sort of airing things out or does it feel terrible (laughter)?

MINKOFF: So from the outside looking in, it looks mildly ridiculous - circus-like. It feels to me as if the House speakership has become a proxy for what should've been happening in the primaries and the presidential side, with the presidential candidates for the GOP, which is having a big, honest debate between the different factions of the GOP - the libertarians, the strict conservatives, the pragmatics, et cetera - and have that debate and decide which way to go forward. That doesn't seem to be happening, mostly because of the alternative candidates, especially Donald Trump. And so since it's not happening there, I think it's happening by proxy in the House.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, one more thing I wanted to ask you about - there's a lot going on with Republican presidential candidates this week, too. You heard our earlier conversation where our guest responded to Ben Carson's comments on gun control, particularly when he said on CNN that the Holocaust might've been avoided if people had been armed. I was just wondering about how you respond to Dr. Carson's comments - particularly because you were also trained as a medical doctor.

MINKOFF: So one problem - and I am derided at times in my profession for saying this is - doctors, like people in certain other fields, often feel that we can do anything. If we were smart enough to go to medical school and smart enough to be doctors, then we're smart enough to do anything. I think that what Carson is showing is that he is a man with deeply held beliefs who is a total and complete political amateur and says things that a person who is more skilled in dealing with the media and more skilled in responding to events in real time, like the Oregon shooting, wouldn't say because they'd know better than to use inflammatory language like that.

MARTIN: Commentator Neil Minkoff writes for The National Review Online. Neil, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MINKOFF: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.