After 'chilling silence,' Ryan poised to make The Decision

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You'll recall the hype back in July of 2010.

More than 13 million people tuned to ESPN one night. It was the most-watched cable program of the evening. ESPN titled the spectacle "The Decision" -- all about the future of LeBron James and for whom he would play that winter.

After 75 minutes, James -- born in Akron -- declared he would abandon his native Rust Belt of northeast Ohio, and would be "taking my talents to South Beach." The Heat, with James, captured two NBA crowns and were runners-up twice during his four-year residence in the South Beach sun.

Then James returned to Ohio.


Another decision awaits these days on Capitol Hill.

Not just a decision. But the decision.

In political circles, the decision is as epic as the one facing LeBron five years ago. In this case, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is weighing whether he should try to succeed retiring House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Like LeBron, Ryan is a bona fide political star. Young. Dashing. Said to be sharp as a tack. Chairman of a powerful committee. Supposed budget wizard. Ryan's already carried the banner for his party as the 2012 vice presidential nominee. And some (on both sides of the aisle) regard Ryan as perhaps the only Republican who can lead the incendiary tinderbox which doubles as the House of Representatives these days.

Ryan left Capitol Hill on Friday, Oct. 9, publicly saying he wasn't seeking the speakership. Sources close to Ryan concede, though, that Ryan privately pondered the prospect. As the House resumes action Tuesday for the first time in a week-and-a-half, there's scant clarity as to what Ryan may do.

"It is a dead and chilling silence," remarked one House Republican source.

But that's about to change.

This is Capitol Hill's version of "The Decision." Will Ryan leave behind his favorite calling -- toiling over tax and trade policy -- atop the Ways and Means Committee and take his talents to the "South Beach" of the Speaker's Suite? Or will Ryan stay put? The latter move is sure to trigger a stampede for the speakership among a cavalcade of 15 to 20 candidates. That could spark perhaps the first, wide-open race for the speaker's gavel in more than 150 years.

Ryan hasn't quite ruled out South Beach yet. But it's clear he prefers wrestling with the vagaries of capital gains rates and the minutiae of ObamaCare at Ways and Means rather than capitalizing on the perquisites of the speakership. The sweeteners to lure LeBron to Florida were his teammates. In Miami, James would enjoy fellow superstars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade on the court. Experts would immediately peg the Heat as the odds-on favorite to win the NBA title.

If Ryan heads to the Speaker's Office, there's no guarantee of winning anything. The next speaker likely has to grapple with onerous measures that will barely keep the government operating, provide funding to highway programs and raise the debt limit. Finishing any of those supposed "must-do" bills is anything but settled. And great teammates like Bosh and Wade? No. Ryan's "teammates" in this venture would include the cantankerous House Freedom Caucus who mostly support Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., for speaker. Some conservatives could threaten to undercut Ryan if he advances legislation not to their liking. For Ryan, the joys of cutting a legislative deal with Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., are a far cry from running a fast-break offense with the likes of Bosh and Wade.

Makes one wonder if Ryan thinks like LeBron, he may be better off in Cleveland, too.

Regardless, Ryan is going to have to make his decision soon. Lawmakers and reporters alike are likely to buttonhole the Wisconsin Republican at virtually every turn to gauge his thinking. If Ryan remains circumspect, there's sure to be an intensified push for Ryan to make up his mind.

"He has to get 242 (out of the 247-member House Republican Conference) people to sign their names in blood that they will back him," said one senior Republican source about what it would take to convince Ryan to stand for speaker. The source indicated that Ryan may only consider running if he can command not just most of the votes of House Republicans but close to all of the votes. In addition, Ryan may want to extract promises from some conservatives that they not rattle the cages too much. By the same token, conservatives may attempt to extract promises from Ryan, too.

Scoring 240-plus House Republicans is a high bar when one considers that around 30-40 members of the House Freedom Caucus are committed to Webster; 218 is the magic number to be elected speaker on the House floor. Ryan would have to peel off about half of all Freedom Caucus members to hit the 218 vote threshold. That's not out of the question -- especially considering Ryan's star status. But during Ryan's week-plus reticence, arch-conservatives dug in against the Wisconsin Republican. They bludgeoned Ryan's position on immigration reform, characterizing it as "amnesty" and "open borders." Going dark for more than a week didn't help Ryan counter the right-wing narrative.

What's fascinating about the past week-and-a-half is that virtually no information dribbled out about Ryan's thinking. No one truly has a clue of how this decision may go.

Yet everyone awaits his word. Everyone's made their bids. Deployed their powers of persuasion or opposition. Much swings in the balance. And like LeBron James in 2010, Paul Ryan must now make The Decision.