Politics

Ryan's Retirement Rattles Republicans

The House speaker joins more than 40 Republicans headed for the exits. Here's a look at his record.

Nate Jackson · Apr. 11, 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan will not seek re-election this November, joining more than 40 other House Republicans who are headed for the exits this fall, if not sooner. For the sitting speaker to retire is a big deal, and it will have implications all over the map.

There won’t be any shortage of celebration among Democrats or some conservatives over Ryan’s departure. John Hayward, for one, wrote, “Ryan rose to prominence as one of the most articulate advocates of fiscal responsibility in his party. His career ends with Republicans proving beyond all doubt that they were never really serious about it.”

It’s true that spending is not under control — especially entitlements — and, as Ryan’s former signature issue, that is a significant failure. Ryan clearly failed to change the budgeting system, instead allowing the all-or-nothing omnibus method to dominate. As Dan McLaughlin explains, “This excess of brinksmanship gives a massive structural advantage towards the passage of individual spending items that could not survive on their own, since the choice is literally one between shutting down the government and approving all the spending on everything.” That said, before he was speaker, Ryan was instrumental in holding the line on spending during the Barack Obama years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough, and he didn’t stick to his guns when he was in charge.

And yes, Republicans failed to repeal ObamaCare as they promised for seven long years. But it’s not primarily the fault of conservatives like Ryan that conservative priorities have failed. The ObamaCare failure is the fault of “centrist” Republicans, particularly in the Senate (here’s looking at you, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, et al.), where Ryan had no control. Leadership for Ryan has meant pulling together Republicans that are much further apart in the majority than they were when Obama was the common opponent, making legislative accomplishments few and far between. The same could be said for his counterpart, Mitch McConnell. Both failed to lead on ObamaCare, but the deck was stacked against them.

President Donald Trump hasn’t made life any easier for Ryan, either. Part of that is welcome — Trump was elected to drain the swamp, and in many ways he’s done so. Clearly that doesn’t make swamp dwellers happy, but there has been some collateral damage too. Republicans are constantly on their heels either defending Trump, bracing for what’s next, or shaking their heads and distancing from him. Trump supporters love it. Ryan and other conservatives trying to accomplish legislative goals, not so much.

Yet, in spite of all that, Ryan steered through the biggest tax reform in 30 years, and Americans of all stripes are benefiting. For all his faults, that is a huge success. Ryan is also a profoundly decent man, and there are far too few such men in Washington. But perhaps his critics will be happier with the impeachment agenda of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(Edited.)

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