It’s the moment that many have been waiting for, the moment that had to come at some point. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House and long-time punchbag for liberals and Trump fans alike, is not standing for re-election in November and will resign as Speaker in January after just over three years. With his departure, the rats are starting to abandon the sinking ship.
Paul Ryan has come a long way in his career. Once, he was a running mate for Mitt Romney’s attempt to seize back the White House. He is credited as an influential architect of the Republican’s economic platform and he was touted as a favorite to become a presidential candidate, possibly looking to run in 2016. Of course, that was in the far-flung past of over five years ago. Now, Ryan is exiting the stage, perhaps conscious that his subservience to Donald Trump is not only a black stain on his record but a mistake that has left America even more divided.
In a sense, the announcement was expected. Paul Ryan never really wanted the job back in 2015, having been cajoled into the role after it was clear that there was no else to get majority votes. He performed as well as anyone could expect, but even before Trump came along, Ryan has been looking for a way out of the job. Despite his reluctance, Republicans have praised him as a decent Speaker, a man who got the job done and did it well, for them anyway.
His insistence that his decision is based on personal and family reasons rather than political ones is probably true, but it’s hard to ignore the implications of his resignation. Ryan can at least be proud of helping to push through the biggest tax reform since Reagan, but it’s the only real victory and if predictions about the deficit are proved right, it will be a hollow one at that. His insistence on passing the omnibus spending bill was seen by some of the fiscal hawks as a betrayal and some conservatives will be pleased to see Ryan go.
His relationship with Trump was complicated and frustrating, to say the least. The failure to get many bills through Congress fell on Ryan’s shoulders as much as McConnell’s and Trump was quick to lambast the GOP’s leadership for apparently blocking his progress. Ryan had to react to every controversy, every lie that Trump made from vetoing the spending bill to threatening to fire Mueller. The slow-motion car-crash of the Obamacare repeal led to a breakdown in trust between Trump and the Congressional leadership.
On the other hand, Ryan has been tainted with his brush with Trump and many will not forget his about-face regarding his tenure. He went from an outspoken critic to humble servant after Trump won in 2016. Ryan was often reluctant to stand up to his boss or condemn his more outlandish actions, meekly going along with him in what some regarded as an attempt to hold onto power. He was seen as part of the problem, appeasing Trump instead of holding him to account and favoring power over principles.
Regardless, Paul Ryan is no longer Speaker. So what happens now? The leadership race for the Speaker’s chair is already underway, but whoever emerges may have to swap places with Nancy Pelosi, come November. It is here that we find the real reason for Ryan’s departure and here, we find the likely impact of his resignation.
For all his flaws, Ryan was still respected in conservatives circles. He was a favorite for fundraisers and was an effective leader, keeping his party mostly united. However, he is clearly disturbed by the fact that the GOP rank-and-file are more in line with Trump’s views than his, something that is clearly costing them seats in the election. If Alabama and Pennsylvania can turn blue, then all hope is truly lost. Best to get out now!
Ryan’s departure will rattle Republicans facing the same dilemma and it’s likely that more will jump ship while they can. A Speaker doesn’t quit when things are going well for his party and Ryan will be a tremendous loss, leaving the GOP with potential fewer avenues for fundraising and more resignations to come. Despite the best efforts to stave off such resignations, many Republicans are well aware that the pendulum is swinging towards the Democratic Party as the nation tires of Trump and his constant missteps.
Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District will be a much easier battleground for Democratic challenger Randy ‘IronStache’ Bryce who is already facing more favorable ground than Connor Lamb did in Pennsylvania and has acquired over $5 million through fundraising. Ryan’s seat isn’t ultra-competitive, of course, but it’s a usually reliable Republican seat that he’s represented since 1999. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it turned blue but it’s more likely with his resignation and it might just be one of the 23 seats needed for Democrats to regain the House.
The fact that November is still a long way off and the total number of incumbents resigning is nearing 50 with Ryan’s exit is very telling. Ryan will probably be glad to spend time with his children and plot his next move on the political stage. He still has ambitions for high office and he is perhaps hoping that his policies and ideas will eventually triumph over Trump’s in the long run. He’ll happily let someone else deal with Trump’s temper tantrums while trying to hold a fractured, divided party together.
But Paul Ryan leaves a divisive legacy behind him, one that has fuelled the ‘Blue Wave’ that he is now running from.