There are a great number of things that separate the two most powerful Republicans in Congress.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is 45, earnest and energetic, a fitness buff and self-described policy wonk. He publicly spurned the speakership until his party came begging, seeking the post only once his decision to do so would seem like an act of sacrifice. Since then, he’s made it part of his job to be a fixture on television, putting a smart, sunny face on modern conservatism to try to repair a tarnished Republican brand.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is, at 73, more than a generation older than Ryan, but the job he holds is the one he’s always wanted. He’s guarded, sometimes even taciturn, granting interviews only when he has a specific message to deliver. McConnell’s a dealmaker, but his passion is politics, not policy.
There are plenty of differences between the two men, but the one that matters most right now is when they assumed their current positions. McConnell became majority leader a year ago and immediately set a clear goal: He wanted to make the Senate function, pass bills, and show constituents that a legislative body universally condemned as dysfunctional could govern under Republican control. As even Democrats begrudgingly acknowledged, he did that. The GOP majority generally avoided crisis in 2015, and the Senate cleared bipartisan agreements on education, infrastructure, taxes, and spending. McConnell deserves credit, even if Democrats rightly complain that the deals were only there for the taking because of Republican obstruction when they were in charge.