- - Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Paul Ryan is getting the message. His statement to a press gaggle on the Hill on Tuesday — “I do not want nor will I accept the nomination [from] our party” — is only a millimeter short of the authentic Sherman that Gen. William Tecumseh, famous for playing with matches on his march from Atlanta to the sea in 1865, gave to those who wanted him to run for president two decades later.

On that occasion, the plain-speaking general said, “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.” There’s no daylight in that, and “taking the Sherman” has been the standard for measuring the truthfulness of candidates who say they aren’t running while often working behind the scenes to arrange a draft. So the speaker’s slightly modified Sherman can be taken as authentic — though politicianspeak is always riddled with holes — until there’s credible evidence otherwise.

Mr. Ryan was, and is, a rising star in the party. He was Mitt Romney’s running mate four years ago and John McCain had briefly considered him for running mate several years before that. He was not damaged by his association with Mr. Romney’s cluttered and confusing blow-off of his opportunity to be the president. The party establishment, in its futile search for a white knight this year, imagined that Mr. Ryan was their man. But a white knight must have a good horse to ride into town on, and good horses are scarce this year.

“So let me speak directly to the delegates on this,” Mr. Ryan said. “If no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, I believe you should only choose a person who actually participated in the primary. Count me out. I simply believe that if you want to be the nominee — to be the president — you should actually run for it. I chose not to. Therefore, I should not be considered. Period.”

Mr. Ryan had been saying for weeks that he was not interested, but his disavowals were taken with considerable salt because he had said he was not running to replace House Speaker John Boehner two years ago when he clearly was. Many in Washington, where nobody’s word is taken at 100 percent face value, thought they were seeing “deja vu all over again,” in Yogi Berra’s felicitous formulation. He compared the difference between that and this week to “apples and oranges. I was already in the House, already a congressman.”

Mr. Ryan even urges the Republican National Committee to “put in place a rule that you can only nominate someone who actually ran for the job.” That hardly limits the pool of candidates if, as seems more likely now than it did a month ago, there’s an actual open convention in Cleveland. If neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz have 1,237 delegates on the first ballot, all bets will be off.

Mr. Ryan will be a consequential factor in Cleveland, candidate or not. As speaker of the House, party rules make him the chairman of the convention, and the arbiter of procedural challenges on the floor. Best of all, from his point of view, he won’t be a party to blowing up the party if it comes to that. Tomorrow, as Scarlett O’Hara reminded us, is another day.

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