Rep. Paul Ryan Sides With GOP Establishment Against Rep. Bachmann & The Tea Party

November 05, 2010 12:10 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Rep. Paul Ryan

With the race for chairman of the House Republican Conference heating up, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has joined other leading Republicans in opposing Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-MN) bid for the position. As Politico reports, Ryan wrote a letter to colleagues urging them to support the establishment pick Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), citing his "economic expertise" and "history of successfully debating" the issues:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a favorite of the conservative movement, has circulated a letter to lawmakers and recently elected Republicans asking them to support Texas Rep. Hensarling.

"Jeb's economic expertise and strong ability to communicate are what we need in our conference chairman to articulate our unified commitment to get our country back on track," Ryan wrote in the letter. "This position requires someone who has a command of these issues and has a history of successfully debating them."  

Ryan's emphasis on "command of the issues" may be a subtle dig at Bachmann, who is known less as a policy wonk than a partisan flamethrower. However, Ryan also appears to have a short memory when it comes to Hensarling's actual abilities. 

Last January, at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore, Hensarling confronted President Obama about the nation's fiscal problems, declaring that "the old annual deficits under Republicans have now become the monthly deficits under Democrats." Noting that he inherited an approximately $1.3 trillion deficit, President Obama shot back, "That's factually just not true, and you know it's not true." The nonpartisan responded the exchange, determining that Hensarling was way off-base:

Hensarling's numbers only work if you cherry-pick the highest month under full Democratic control and compare it to one of the lowest years under full Republican control ... Hensarling's numbers are wrong. There are so many bookkeeping tricks in this one that he's far from the truth. We rule his claim False.

But luckily for Hensarling, the race for conference chairman isn't really about "economic expertise" at all. Bachmann says it is about demonstrating "to the people who sent us here" — the Tea Party base — "that their concerns will be tirelessly advanced at the table of leadership." For Ryan and other Republican elites, it's about making sure that they're not.