On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced to colleagues that he would be stepping down from his position as speaker after the November elections, and would not be running for re-election in his district – a retirement that will send shock waves throughout the Republican Party. An odd amount of celebration has broken out in more Trump-friendly circles of the Republican Party, where Ryan has been blamed for legislative shortcomings; a similarly odd amount of celebration has broken out in Democratic circles, despite the fact that Ryan’s attitude toward Democrats has been far more collegial than presumed alternatives.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Ryan’s Leaving Because The Blue Wave Is Coming. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is leaving Congress. So are Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Lynn Jenkins (R-KA), Sam Johnson (R-TX), John Duncan (R-TN), Ted Poe (R-TX), Dave Trott (R-MI), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Bill Shuster (R-PA), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Tom Rooney (R-FL), among several others. The blue wave is coming, and it isn’t going to be pretty. President Trump’s approval ratings are still low by poll averages, and Democratic enthusiasm is at record highs. Ryan’s leaving signals to donors that the House is in serious trouble.
2. Ryan Isn’t Leaving Because Trump Won. He’s Leaving Because 2018 Will Be Awful For Him. Ryan stayed and successfully pursued several of Trump’s top agenda items. He was able to balance his obvious personal problems with Trump with his desire to push a certain legislative agenda. He’s leaving because he isn’t interested in being blamed for the likely loss of the House in a few months’ time, which Republicans will lay at his feet simply in order to avoid blaming President Trump.
3. Ryan Leaving Does Represent A Triumph Of Trumpian Attitude. Ryan wasn’t hot on Trump in 2016, and he’s not hot on Trump now. He’s learned to work with Trump. But there’s little question that Trump’s combative attitude is now more popular with the base than Ryan’s low-key winkishness and penchant for riffing about Jack Kemp. That was true in 2016, however. That’s not what his retirement proves.
4. The Base Disliked Ryan – But That’s Because Of McConnell. Ryan took a lot of hits for being too willing to pass massive budgets that violated his own principles. And perhaps he should have been willing to hold the line and force Trump’s and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s feet to the fire. But Ryan has really taken shots that should have been aimed at McConnell: in every case of supposed Ryan treachery, Ryan’s House has passed a conservative bill, only to be rejected by McConnell’s Senate.
5. Trump’s Victories Were Largely Ryan’s. With the exception of the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, most of Trump’s major victories were attributable to Ryan (tax cuts) or McConnell (Gorsuch). To credit Trump with every victory and dump every loss on Ryan is simply inaccurate; after all, Ryan has had to contend with the possibility that Trump will simply go over his head and negotiate with Pelosi (as he did in 2017 on the budget). The idea that Trump’s replacement will successfully pursue Ryan’s agenda better than Ryan did is largely fanciful.
6. Ryan Never Wanted The Job. Ryan had to be persuaded to run for the job when there were few other solid alternatives. He was never temperamentally suited to it. The best and most successful speakers are manipulators who cannily negotiate (see Tip O’Neill) or charismatic personalities with a legislative vision backed by their parties (see Newt Gingrich). Ryan is a soft-spoken thinker who talks about entitlement reform.
7. Ryan’s Priorities Weren’t Backed By Trump Or His Fellow Legislators. Ryan was able to sneak a bit of Medicare and Medicaid reform into the tax bill, as well as an end to the individual mandate. But his chief goal in the House remains unfulfilled: entitlement reform. Republicans simply don’t have the taste for it, and it now seems unlikely they ever will. Get ready for austerity measures 10 years down the road.
8. Ryan Has Young Kids. Being a legislator sucks. It’s just awful. You spend most of your time away from your family, and then when you’re back home, you spend most of your time campaigning. Ryan has three children under age 18. He doesn’t want to miss the rest of their childhood. That’s commendable and understandable.
9. Whomever Replaces Ryan Must Be A Wartime Consigliere. The person replacing Ryan will likely be minority leader. That means Republicans need someone who is willing to stop Nancy Pelosi’s far-left agenda at every turn.
President Trump paid tribute to Ryan on Twitter after hearing that Ryan was leaving:
That’s about as nice as things are going to get for the soon-to-be-former-speaker. The next few months are likely to be the roughest of his life. The good news for him: after that, he gets to go home.