What a piece of news to wake up to. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House and one of the three most famous (infamous?) Republican politicians in America…will not seek re-election.
This is the part in a political obituary where you list the soon-to-be-deceased’s resume, but is that even necessary? We all know Paul Ryan. He’s the Wisconsin “wonk” who came to prominence as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, he’s been in the House since ‘99, and he rose to Speaker—almost reluctantly, and for very good reasons—in 2015 after the retirement of John Boehner. He’s spent the entirety of his political career working to strip the social safety net for parts while inventing new ways to give tax breaks to the rich. He’s the kind of guy who has dreamed of making Medicaid cuts “since he was drinking at a keg,” which is frankly a pretty bizarre life goal, but there you are. He dutifully marshaled his House troops for the “repeal Obamacare” movement last summer, only to watch it fail under Mitch McConnell’s stewardship in the Senate. His signature triumph, months later, was the passage of the tax bill, one of the greatest upward distributions of wealth in American history. But even in the midst of this success, he’s found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, with his polite, palatable version of destructive Randian conservatism getting repeatedly battered against the unforgiving reefs of Trumpian lunatic populism.
Ryan was going to be challenged in the upcoming election by a union worker named Randy Bryce, aka “The Iron Stache,” but though Bryce’s campaign drew a good deal of publicity, it’s unlikely that Ryan was legitimately scared of losing in his home district. The more likely explanation is that he’s just sick of the struggle—being a House Republican doesn’t seem like a fun job these days, especially ahead of the impending 2018 midterms, and actually leading this doomed coalition seems like actual torture. Ryan told his colleagues Wednesday morning that he wants to spend more time with his wife and teenage children, and who can blame him for escaping the slaughterhouse before the real carnage begins? Even in the likely scenario that he kept his seat, he would either be the head of a fragile majority with significantly less power, or on the chopping block as the Speaker that lost control of the House.
Per the Times, the succession battle for the new Speaker role will likely come down to Steve Scalise (LA), the House majority whip, and Kevin McCarthy (CA), the majority leader…though why either of these men would want the position at this particular political moment is tough to understand. As for Democrats, they’re trying not to openly celebrate, but figures like Chuck Schumer are already urging Ryan to distance himself and his party from the loons, and thereby further divide the right:
“With his newfound political freedom, I hope the Speaker uses his remaining time in Congress to break free from the hard-right factions of his caucus that have kept Congress from getting real things done,” he said. “If he’s willing to reach across the aisle, he’ll find Democrats willing and eager to work with him.”