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Julius Caesar

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CASCA: Why, there was a crown offered him: and being offered him, he put it by with the back of his hand, thus: and then the people fell a-shouting.
BRUTUS: What was the second noise for?
CASCA: Why, for that too.
CASSIUS: They shouted thrice: what was the last cry for?
CASCA: Why, for that too.
BRUTUS: Was the crown offered him thrice?
CASCA: Ay, marry, was’t, and he put it by thrice, every time gentler than the other, and at every putting-by mine honest neighbours shouted.

– Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2) by William Shakespeare

On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan held a press conference to address mounting rumours that he would make a run for the Presidency should a current candidate fail to pass the 1,237 delegate threshold needed to win the Republican nomination on the first ballot. ‘Count me out’ he stated setting out his stall, ‘I want this cleared up once and for all’ he declared, ‘I should not be considered. Period. End of story’, he implored, ‘we have too much work to do in the House to allow this speculation to swirl or to have my motivations questioned’ he pleaded.

The press conference marked the fifth occasion in which Ryan has counted himself out of the running for the highest office in the land. To the naked eye the case seems closed – Paul Ryan neither wants to be nor will be the Republican nominee for the Presidency.

However, Tuesday’s press conference roused an unmistakable sense of déjà vu – after all this is not the first time we have seen this Caesar demurely swat away the crown offered to him. Ryan exhibited similar rhetoric when addressing rumors that he would run for the role of Speaker of the House left vacant by John Boehner. I don’t want to be Speaker…this is a job for an empty nester’, Ryan stated last September, ‘I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate’ he declared in October 2015, ‘I continue to believe I can best serve the country & this conference as Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee’ he implored before eventually taking up the vacant Speaker’s seat.

Recent actions have also fanned the flames of a nomination bid. At the end of March, Ryan gave a speech on Capitol Hill outlining his vision for the US and American politics, and last week his office released a short video compiled of the best lines from the speech, which some commentators have labeled his first Presidential ad- campaign. Republican Party activists have also raised $50,000 in his name through CrowdPac for a potential campaign, and next week Ryan is scheduled to meet with top Republican donors, amongst them Todd Ricketts and Randy Kendrick whose donations have spearheaded the ‘Stop Trump Campaign’. Furthermore, Ryan’s recent trip to Israel, his first foreign visit as Speaker of the House, and meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, lends added weight to the idea that Ryan is running a parallel campaign for the Republican nomination.

In Ancient Rome, the role of dictator was a post conferred to an individual by the Senate for a set period in times of military and internal crisis. Despite his self- aggrandising intentions, Caesar did unite the bulk of the ruling class of the Roman Republic, with only a minority plotting his eventual demise. As with the Roman Republic in the time of Julius Caesar, the Republican Party now finds itself in the midst of an internal crisis, in which there is a lack of a coherent identity and lack of an individual strong enough to unite its splintering factions.

Paul Ryan has the potential to be the knight in shining armour for a Republican establishment in desperate need of one. One has to wait until the Republican Convention in July to find out how this modern day Shakespearian drama ends. However, until then the Republican establishment can only hope that Ryan’s demurring is another one of his Caesarian plots to gently refuse the office he secretly covets above all others.

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