- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan romped to victory Tuesday in the Republican primary for his congressional seat, dealing another setback to insurgent tea party forces that hoped to make an example out of him.

The race was called soon after the polls closed at 8 p.m. CDT in Wisconsin. Mr. Ryan led challenger Paul Nehlen 84 percent to 16 percent with most precincts reporting.

Mr. Ryan pronounced himself and his wife “humbled” by the massive win, then launched into a discourse on the need for optimism in politicians, saying he represented “political leadership that is inclusive, not divisive.”

He didn’t mention Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by name when criticizing divisiveness, but did attack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying she represents the status quo at a time when voters are yearning for change.

“There is a lot of real frustration in this country. There is a lot of anger that Washington just isn’t working,” he said. “People want to see Congress and our elected leaders tackle those problems.”

Mr. Nehlen had hoped to tap some of the same Republican anger that has propelled Donald Trump to become the party’s presidential nominee, trying to exploit differences over trade and illegal immigration policy, where Mr. Ryan takes a decidedly more lenient stance than Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Ryan’s deep ties to his district, a massive campaign treasury and an immense likability helped him surmount the challenge. His victory also served as a reminder that the Republican Party’s conservative establishment remains powerful, despite years of battles with the insurgent tea party.

“Paul’s overwhelming victory demonstrates that the people of Wisconsin trust him to be their voice in Washington who protects them from the failed policies of Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats,” said Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of House Republicans’ campaign arm.

Immigrant advocacy organizations also leapt to congratulate Mr. Ryan, whom they consider one of their own, based on his support for legalizing illegal immigrants and expanding guest-worker programs to allow more legal immigration.

“Tonight’s results are not a surprise but are a good reminder that the American people and Republican primary voters really just want realistic immigration solutions to secure the border, modernize the legal immigration system and provide a process for undocumented immigrants who pass a background check to get right with the law,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, founded by Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and other tech executives who are pushing for immigration leniency.

Mr. Ryan was never in real danger of losing, but his race took on national proportions after he and Mr. Trump spent several months jockeying with each other over the direction of the Republican Party.

Mr. Ryan withheld his endorsement from Mr. Trump even after the billionaire businessman wrapped up the nomination in May, and Mr. Trump seemed to be getting some payback in recent weeks when he withheld his endorsement from Mr. Ryan — who was still entrenched in a primary.

Last week, Mr. Trump reversed course and did endorse Mr. Ryan.

Even so, tea party forces hoped to defeat Mr. Ryan, just as they did Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. But where Mr. Cantor was caught by surprise, Mr. Ryan saw the challenge coming and was prepared.

He ascended to the House speakership last year after John A. Boehner relinquished the gavel, fed up with repeated battles with House conservatives.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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