Paul Ryan Challenger Courts Wis. Liberals, National Conservatives

Paul Nehlen is a businessman who is mounting a primary challenge against House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. In an anti-incumbent year, Nehlen, a newcomer to the Wisconsin political scene, has managed to line up some “big” endorsements – outside the district. Casting himself as the next David Brat – the conservative college professor who ousted then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in 2014 – Nehlen believes he can knock Ryan out in the August primary.

Make no mistake: Paul Nehlen is no David Brat. Paul Ryan, for that matter, is no Eric Cantor, either.

Although Brat, like Nehlen, was a political neophyte, he understood free market principles and had something of a conservative policy framework in place before he ran for office. For his part, Nehlen is no free market champion, and his policy platform is less about being a conservative in Congress and more about accumulating the trappings of office for himself.

Lately, Nehlen has taken to making the rounds on liberal radio shows in the Madison media market since local conservative radio hosts – the same hosts who touted Ted Cruz during the Wisconsin primary – are ignoring him. Last week, Nehlen boasted to Sly Sylvester, a favorite leftwing host, that union leaders throughout the 1st Congressional District they ask him if he’s a Democrat after hearing him speak.

“I’ve sat with union groups here in Janesville, and they said ‘Gosh, you almost sound like a Democrat,'” Nehlen said.

These would be the very same unions that fought hard to deliver Wisconsin twice for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. These would be the very same unions that joined with public employees and protested public sector labor reforms that have saved Wisconsin taxpayers literally billions of dollars. These would be the very same labor unions that helped instigate recall elections aimed at Republican state senators and Gov. Scott Walker for daring to suggest that government serves all citizens – not union bosses. These would be the very same unions that fought against “Right to Work” legislation that ended forced unionization at private sector employers. These would be the very same unions that opposed prevailing wage reform – a mechanism of Wisconsin state law that mandated taxpayers pay union wages for big construction projects.

These unions are not conservative. These unions are not in favor of free markets. Nevertheless, these unions are the people Paul Nehlen is courting to beat Paul Ryan.

Before this recent interview, Nehlen told the same host in another interview that Democrats should take advantage of Wisconsin’s open primary system by crossing over and voting for him to stick it to Republican Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan has made mistakes during his time in Congress and he’s not always cast his vote in a conservative fashion. For example, he supported TARP and the auto bailout, both fiscal misadventures championed by outgoing President George W. Bush in 2008. But Ryan has also been a consistent voice for entitlement reform and has presented various budget options to House Republicans that have begun the process of balancing the grossly imbalanced federal budget.

Additionally, Ryan replaced Speaker John Boehner not because he wanted to lead House Republicans but because he was perhaps the only consensus candidate who promised the conservative wing of the GOP conference a return to regular order. Ryan’s intent is to give policymaking responsibility back to House committees and individual members and not centralize it in a secretive Speaker’s office that negotiates deals that are subsequently given an up or down vote by all members. Whether or not Ryan ends up being successful in this remains to be seen – and part of it depends on how other members act.

The central tenant of Nehlen’s fiscal policy is termination of free trade deals that he views as threatening to American manufacturers. Beyond ending free trade, however, Nehlen has been oddly silent on fiscal matters, choosing vague pronouncements about doing what’s best for the American worker over concrete statements of conservative orthodoxy.

Michelle Malkin and Sarah Palin have both chosen to endorse Nehlen, but conservatives in Wisconsin have yet to offer their support. They aren’t likely to rally to his side either since he is courting the very same organizations and leaders that have waged unrestricted warfare on conservative reforms. It also doesn’t help Nehlen’s credibility when he claims to have donated to Ryan’s congressional campaign before being jilted by the Speaker and a comprehensive search of campaign finance records reveals that no such donation ever took place.

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Brian Sikma

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