Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced earlier today that he is planning to retire after his current term ends in January 2019 and will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives. This development has led to cries of joy from both the left and the right, as nearly everyone seems to have a bone to pick with the outgoing Speaker. The left obviously does not like him, as his policy prescriptions were generally to slash social spending, but neither does a good portion of the right, which thinks he is not supportive enough of the President.
Personally, I was not and am not a fan of Ryan’s fiscal and social conservatism, but I respect the way he carried himself as Speaker and the clear love he has for our country. I disagree with the way he carried out his mission, as well as many of his goals like reducing taxes and cutting entitlement programs. Still, the man who never wanted the job is ending a long and relatively successful House career while his party has a majority and another year of governing before the results of the 2018 midterm elections come to pass. Why is this happening now?
There are many reasons (including his desire to be with family, which nobody should discount), but one is quite clear: the impending possibility of a so-called ‘Blue Wave’ election later this year which could see Democrats take back the House and contest the Senate. In the event that the Republicans lose control of the lower body of Congress, Speaker Ryan would likely be the one to shoulder most of the blame, even though the high Democratic turnout required to give the House back to that party would be almost entirely driven by animus towards President Trump. Ryan’s brand of traditional conservatism (free trade, entitlement reform) is being phased out of the Republican Party largely due to the overwhelming center of gravity that is President Trump, and is being replaced by a more populist and ‘America First’ message. The next Speaker, if he is chosen prior to the November elections would probably be someone farther to the right of Ryan, like current majority leader Kevin McCarthy or GOP whip (and shooting survivor) Steve Scalise.
After the elections, who knows who will take the reins of power in the Grand Old Party; it could be someone like the aforementioned candidates or a member much farther to the right, such as Freedom Caucus representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows. A more populist, far-right leader for the Republicans in Congress would lead to many more budget showdowns, government shutdown threats, and outright tactics meant to stall and disrupt the federal government. Liberals should be careful what they wish for in the resignation of Speaker Ryan, as the alternative is likely no better in their eyes, and could be far worse.
Speaking of far worse, Ryan is resigning today which is quite early, due to the potential successors he has for his seat. One prominent candidate is Paul Nehlen, a virulent anti-Semite and all-around despicable human being, and Ryan is probably stepping down now so that the GOP can find a more palatable and reasonable candidate for the now-vacant seat. Ryan’s district is Republican-leaning regardless, so a better candidate for the Republican side of the ballot would be a very good thing for the Congress (nobody wants to see Nehlen elected, not even the GOP). Ryan’s departure will almost inevitably lead to a further radicalization of Republican House members and more polarization in our politics, something I am dead-set against.
Although I’m happy that the Speaker will not be running again given my ideological disagreements with him, I’m skeptical that losing a leader who has tried (in his eyes) to do the best for the United States will help matters at all. In fact, I dread the potential replacements, particularly if the fabled ‘Blue Wave’ doesn’t materialize as expected. Democrats everywhere best not be complacent and get out and vote this November if they don’t want to return a House of Representatives that is even more anti-government and pro-Trump than the one we have today. I think we can all hope for that particular outcome.