- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan pleaded Wednesday for a truce with conservatives, saying bitter fighting over tactics in cutting spending or defunding Obamacare plays into President Obama’s hands, and prevents Republicans from settling on a broad Reagan-esque agenda.

In a speech at The Heritage Foundation, one of the heavyweight conservative groups that’s regularly battled GOP leaders in Congress, Mr. Ryan asked grass-roots leaders to focus on unifying to fight big ideological battles with Democrats rather than fight internal GOP feuds over legislative strategy, saying Republican voters are being misled and confused.

“Don’t take the bait. Let’s not fight over tactics. Don’t impugn people’s motives,” Mr. Ryan said, asking for space to be able to lay out big ideological differences with Democrats.

Mr. Ryan, who was the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee but took a pass on this year’s presidential contest, said Republican infighting plays into the hands of President Obama, who exploits those fights to pursue his own agenda.

But Mr. Ryan, just a few months into his new job as the face of House Republicans, is already suffering in the eyes of GOP voters. And the disappointment is particularly high on the presidential campaign trail, where supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump say last year’s spending and tax-cuts deal, which Mr. Ryan oversaw, was a bad start.

“I thought a fair amount of Ryan before that, less of [him] since he did that, since he just went along and gave them everything, in my opinion. So he is no longer fighting that fight. I think we need to fight that fight the whole time when Obama is in office for everything we want versus what we don’t want,” said Sanford Way, 65, a New Hampshire voter leaning toward Mr. Cruz in the presidential primary.

Mr. Cruz, Mr. Trump and other presidential candidates are tapping into that anger, saying GOP leaders in Washington have let Republicans down by working with Mr. Obama on spending increases while failing to stop the president’s moves on everything from Obamacare and Planned Parenthood funds to his deportation amnesty.

Republican leaders have chafed at those accusations for years, saying that as long as Mr. Obama is in the White House and Democrats in Congress are willing to sustain his veto, they have little say in what can be written into law. And they have shied away from knock-down fights using Congress’ power of the purse, saying they fear voters would punish them, not Democrats, for a government shutdown.

The fight was particularly fierce between former House Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Ryan’s predecessor, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the one hand, and activist leaders such as Heritage Action, the Madison Project and tea party groups on the other side.

Those groups would regularly dock Republicans for not doing more with their congressional majorities.

Mr. Ryan said those were fights over tactics, which he said were obscuring the agreement that most conservatives have on the big issues.

“When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House. We can’t do that anymore,” he said.

He didn’t mention any particular name, but the fight he singled out — defunding Obamacare — was led in 2013 by Mr. Cruz and ended in a 16-day government shutdown.

Indeed, Mr. Ryan differs with Mr. Cruz, and also with Mr. Trump, on more than just tactics. The two presidential candidates want to see stiffer enforcement of immigration, while Mr. Ryan has long been a supporter of legalizing illegal immigrants. Mr. Ryan is also a supporter of President Obama’s Pacific trade deal, which Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump both oppose.

Those differences are playing out among rank-and-file voters.

“He went to my high school. He is a nice guy, but I think he was a mistake,” said Steve Allison, a Trump supporter who grew up in Mr. Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. “I love him to death. I have known the Ryan family for years, and I don’t like the direction he is going. He comes from a very good, conservative family and everything, but I see him skirting around stuff. I don’t see him as being any better than Boehner was.”

Mark Morency said he is “wicked disappointed” in Mr. Ryan — but admitted he was conflicted because he does want someone willing to work across party lines.

“But where he just rolled over on that omnibus, I just felt like he gave everything away,” Mr. Morency said. “I want someone to reach across the aisle but also stand up for me.”

Maybe unsurprisingly, Mr. Ryan’s support is stronger among voters backing the “establishment” candidates — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I love him,” said Steve McMahon, a Rubio supporter in New Hampshire. “I would appoint him president if I could.”

For their part, Democrats are trying to lump Mr. Ryan in with the more strident GOP candidates. Hours after Mr. Ryan’s Heritage speech on Wednesday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fired off a fundraising email to supporters saying Mr. Ryan was doing “his best Ted Cruz impression” by forcing a vote this week on repealing Obamacare.

⦁ Seth McLaughlin reported from New Hampshire.

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