U.S. Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan Jr. (R-Wisconsin) is retiring from Congress because of the 2018 Congressional election.
Ryan fears that the November election will leave him in one of two uncomfortable places. Either the Democrats will pick up enough seats to gain a majority; making Ryan the minority leader blamed for the defeat, in other words, the Republican Nancy Pelosi.
Or Ryan would be Speaker with a much smaller Republican majority – perhaps as a little as one or two seats. That would make around Ryan a powerless Speaker; whose party would be incapable of getting anything done but still blamed for the nation’s problems.
Both scenarios are highly likely because 43 House Republicans are not seeking re-election while Democrats only need to pick up 24 seats to get control, CNN noted. In contrast, just 19 Democrats are planning to leave the House.
Ryan is leaving because he does not want to be Nancy Pelosi
The Speaker, understandably, feels it is better to retire in the wake of the most impressive Republican legislative victory in decades; last year’s tax bill, than end up the punchline in late-night talk show hosts’ monologues.
A Democratic victory would instantly transform Ryan from the most powerful man in Washington to despised and embattled minority leader. Any new Republican majority is likely to be tiny and fractured by infighting between conservatives and Trump admirers.
Ryan’s talk about wanting to see his kids grow up is a pathetic excuse. If the Speaker truly loved his family as much as he claims, he would have moved them to Washington DC, or retired long ago. The use of family is self-serving and rather hypocritical.
Ryan’s Retirement Represents a Failure for Conservatism
Ryan’s departure represents a defeat for the principled and idea-based conservatism he embodied.
A major reason why Ryan is leaving is that there is simply no popular support for the conservatism he practices and preaches. The voters do not want smaller government, slashed benefits, smaller budgets, and lower taxes for the rich. Nor do they want sober discussions of policy and ideas, which is Ryan’s strength.
Even such mainstays of movement conservatism as free trade, open borders, the balanced budget, and multiculturalism are under assault. The GOP seems to be drifting towards a toxic mix of populism, technophobia, Christian nationalism, white nationalism, jingoism, militarism, imperialism, cultural nostalgia, and protectionism.
It is easy to see why somebody as principled and as smart as Paul Ryan wants nothing to do with such a noxious stew of bigotry and hysteria. Another reason why Ryan left is that the media keeps giving President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) credit for his signature achievement the 2017 tax reforms. Almost every news story refers to it as the “Trump tax cut” which is ridiculous.
What Happens after Ryan?
So what happens after Ryan leaves the Capitol? Nobody knows because both the Democrats and the Republicans in the House are completely leaderless. There is no obvious figure that can step up and take his place in either party.
The Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is a tired old fossil and a failure. The Republican leaders are a pack of second and third-raters. The best we can hope for is that a radical leftwing Democrat like Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) can rise up and become a new Ryan.
Now that Ryan is leaving, I will miss the man but not the politics. He is a good man who promoted some bad policies and found himself trapped by them. I just wish all politicians were as ethical, as honorable, as thoughtful, as intellectual, and as principled as Paul Ryan.
Is Ryan the New Reagan?
Stepping out of Congress might provide Ryan with a new role that might yield more influence and the Presidency.
Once out of Congress, Ryan can assume the role of principled elder statesman and thoughtful conservative critic of the status quo. He will be free to criticize President Trump and other nationalist leaders and present an alternative to their opportunistic propaganda.
By leaving office Ryan will gain a huge soapbox on the Sunday morning talk shows, and YouTube he can leverage to create a national brand as the thoughtful intellectual conservative alternative to the fool in the White House. The former Speaker can rake in the big bucks from book deals, lecture fees, writing, and TV hosting gigs while enhancing his reputation.
That will put Ryan in a role much like President Ronald Reagan (R-California); who led the Republican Party out of the ethical mess and political dead end known as Watergate. After Richard M. Nixon’s (R-California) administration collapsed in corruption and incompetence, Reagan emerged as the principled conservative leader who reorganized the party and led it to victory.
Out of Congress, Ryan can assume a Reagan-esque role as the principled, competent, and intelligent conservative alternative to Trumpism. He will be free to attack Trump and challenge the President for party leadership. An obvious way to achieve that would be with a primary challenge to the Donald or his handpicked successor in 2020.
We have not seen the last of Paul Ryan; he will be back as a Presidential candidate in either 2020 or 2024 or beyond. Remember Ryan is only 48, so he can easily afford to sit out a few terms. Then we will see if there is still a market for the brand of intelligent conservativism and ethical politics that Ryan represents.