Paul Ryan was almost there, but after weeks of Republicans begging him to step in and solve their messy search for a House speaker, a nagging concern could hold him back: Would he, the father of children aged 10, 12, and 13, be able to handle the job’s intense fundraising schedule without neglecting his family?
Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who according to this office has raised more than $2.5 million for his party this year, thought texting Ryan a photo might convince him that he could indeed do it all.
In the picture, Scalise is crouched down. His arms are around his two kids at St. Catherine’s school back in Louisiana. LSU baseball cap and smile on, Scalise is covered in icy-blue silly string as his kids stand proudly displaying their empty canisters of goo.
He sent it along with a message: "I've been at the kids' school fair all weekend. You can do this too!"
In the end, Ryan agreed to the job—and now he’ll find out if Scalise was right.
In terms of fundraising, Ryan and Republicans have big shoes to fill. Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner’s devotion to fundraising set records. By July of this year, Politico reported that Boehner had already raised $28 million for the 2016 cycle and the he had held roughly 100 events. Boehner is generous with his fortunes. According to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, Boehner has given more money to his colleagues—$41.1 million—than any other member in Congress.
Ryan’s rule was that he was not going to spend every weekend on the road. He was going to be there for his kids back in Wisconsin.
And some in the caucus—including some Freedom Caucus members who were already on the fence about Ryan for fear that he was too close to the party establishment—have expressed concern that he won’t be able to fill the party’s campaign coffers in the same manner as his predecessor.
“As he has publicly stated, he is a father. He has young children. He does not have the time to do the speaker’s job as it has been done in the past,” Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama and Freedom Caucus member, said last week before Ryan was elected.
Their gripes with Ryan’s family demands were just one of the many concerns they harbored about Ryan as speaker. The group of roughly 40 conservatives also worried about Ryan’s position on immigration and his history of negotiating with Democrats on everything from trade to the budget.
But, those close to Ryan say any concerns about a future fundraising slump are unwarranted. Ryan, after all, was the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee and was serving as the powerful Ways and Means Committee chairman before stepping up to take the gavel. He’s raised $40 million for himself and given about $8 million according to the Center for Responsive Politics. As a major fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, his relationships with K Street and big party donors run deep.
“I think if there was anyone who could step into the former speaker’s shoes it is going to be him,” Rep. Frank Lucas told National Journal. “I know there are concerns about how many days of week or how many or hours he commits, but like everything else in life, it is not volume, it is quality.”
So what’s Ryan’s plan to bring in Boehnerloads of money while still spending time with his kids?
Ryan’s allies say he’ll find a way to do more with fewer hours. An avid golfer, Boehner was known to raise money leisurely. He preferred spending long afternoons on the golf course on a Saturday rather than just a two-hour dinner reception. As whip, Scalise has made use of his travel days—the Monday and Friday when he is often commuting between Louisiana and Washington—to raise money. He can make it to D.C. by way of cities like Houston or New York, stopping briefly to fundraise. It is a model that Ryan, who commutes between D.C. and southern Wisconsin, has also used.
“This was his life, his love, his commitment. This was his bliss,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming, about Boehner’s fundraising style. “I have a feeling these guys will almost be like a young medical practice where they will be on call. I think they will fall more into a rotation so all the burden is not on the speaker. “
In recent years, the National Republican Congressional Committee has fallen short of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on fundraising. But Republicans have still managed to secure major majorities in the House, and Ryan has promised to focus his fundraising time on the NRCC instead of the RNC.
Moderate Republicans have been annoyed that the Far Right has attacked Ryan on fundraising at all, given that the NRCC’s shortcomings can sometimes be traced back to less-generous members who don’t meet their party’s fundraising dues.
“For goodness sakes, the guy is better known than anyone in the House chamber, he has demonstrated his fundraising prowess up here. He was the chairman of the RNC presidential trust, and look, he probably has the best small-donor name that anybody could have,” said Rep. Tom Cole, who is close to Ryan and leadership. “Most of the people complaining, by the way, are people who don’t raise any money themselves.”
Even Democrats like former DCCC Chairman Steve Israel aren’t predicting that Ryan will come up short on fundraising—though they’re couching it in a far-less complimentary fashion.
“I don’t think Paul Ryan needs to be out there raising money every weekend for the party. The special interests that he has tried to reward by taking $800 billion away from Medicare will be happy to just sign whatever checks he asks for,” Israel said.