Ryan Is History

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 16

  • Ryan out; and with him the once-future of the GOP
  • Dems now eyeing takeover of Florida’s Senate
  • Delegates dump Coffman in Colorado

House 2018

Speaker Ryan: When Paul Ryan took the job of speaker in 2015, he did so reluctantly. There was a good reason for that. No one else could do the job. Ryan was even in a position to make demands as to the conditions of his taking the job, so desperate were Republicans to find someone suitable to replace former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Before Ryan’s ascent, the Republican caucus in the House had already become ungovernable. One way of putting the dilemma was this: To pass something that could also pass the Senate meant going against House conservatives who were not in the least afraid to defy the leadership. To please the House conservatives, on the other hand, often meant passing something that couldn’t make it through the Senate. Hence the constant threats of government shutdowns — although they’ve never quite gone all the way yet.

The problem here was the neutering of the the Republican leadership. This occurred thanks to two recent developments. First, the elimination of earmarks meant they had nothing with which to buy off members; second, the Citizens United decision dramatically decentralized fundraising so that the party bosses and committee chairmen no longer held all the cards. Now, recalcitrant members could fight the leadership and find their own independent sources of funding, away from K Street and the normal cash flow of the old DeLay/Pelosi era.

As a result, both John Boehner and Ryan after him had few tools to keep their caucus in line. That meant is was sure to be a thankless job. Boehner quit rather than fight a conservative coup because…well, why fight to keep such a miserable job?

As for Ryan, he is going out now wth something to show for his efforts, but certainly not as much as he’d like.

Even before he took the top job in the House, Ryan had been a leader. He brought the House GOP along to embrace entitlement reform principles in their formal budget, which he had been pushing for years but which many viewed as too politically risky.

Ryan proved the doubters wrong when Republicans not only suffered no negative electoral consequences, but actually thrived and retook the House after getting on board.

And in many ways, he seemed like the future of the Republican Party. Young, smart, principled and conservative in the way people had understood the term since Reagan. It was to be a reform-minded and libertarian-leaning party with overtones of evangelical and (more and more) Catholic values.

But it was all an illusion. Ryan wasn’t the future of the GOP at all. Or at least, he wasn’t its immediate future. Donald Trump was its future — something no one saw coming in 2015. No one had gleaned even the slightest hint of this from the two successful congressional elections of 2010 and 2014, in which immigration played a minimal role and trade protectionism wasn’t even an issue on the horizon, except for Democrats who incessantly accused Republicans of “shipping jobs overseas.” Republicans and conservatives were increasingly embracing ideas like criminal justice and civil forfeiture reform, which the classical law-and-order Trump does not necessarily support at all.

For Ryan, a believer in free trade and supply-side economics all his life, the rise of Trump was as unexpected as it was a philosophical rude awakening. And that comes on top of Ryan’s well-known unease with Trump’s personal behavior, which nearly turned the two men into perpetual enemies.

Trump and Ryan managed to patch things up after their ugly feud in 2016, a result of Ryan being so late to get behind Trump. The two have since found ways to work pretty well together — the House passed not only tax reform, but also the health care reform bill that Trump wanted to sign but the Senate later rejected. And using the Congressional Review Act, Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell have helped Trump build up a legacy of deregulation that a lot of people might not have expected from him based on his campaign rhetoric.

Still, Ryan leaves politics somewhat broken-hearted. His vision for a conservative future has taken a shape he would  never have anticipated.

And of course, that’s not the worst of it. His decision to quit now is surely not unconnected to the great likelihood that Democrats are going to take over the House in 2018. Republicans are concerned that Ryan’s lame-duck status could hobble their fundraising, but their bigger problem is that Republican voters are depressed and failing to turn out to counteract fanatical anti-Trump resistance. Ryan may be getting out while the getting is good.

Florida-15: It surely pales in comparison to Ryan’s announcement but Republican Rep. Dennis Ross will be calling it quits as well in this Tampa Bay area seat. It’s precisely the sort of seat that is easy Republican in any normal year but could be more susceptible to a Democratic takeover if there’s truly a Blue Wave building.

Florida-27: When state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D, jumped into the open-seat race to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen last summer, Democrats boasted what a strong recruit he was. So the news this week that he was dropping out could have been taken as a bad thing for them.

It actually isn’t. The reason he now plans to stay in the Florida Senate is that Democrats suddenly express serious hopes of taking it over for the first time in over 25 years. Were Rodriguez to remain a candidate for U.S. House, the state’s newly amended resign-to-run law, which now covers runs for federal office, would put another open seat on Democrats’ hands. As matters stand, they need to gain five seats to tie the state Senate, and one more to claim an outright majority.

North Dakota-At Large: Here’s a strange downward progression: Republican State Sen. Tom Campbell first switched from the U.S. Senate race to the House race when Rep. Kevin Cramer reconsidered and decided to run for Senate. Now Campbell has also dropped out of that race after losing the party’s House race endorsement to state Sen. Kelly Armstrong at the state convention.

Governor 2018

Colorado: Centennial State Republicans rather shockingly chose at their convention to send Attorney General Cynthia Coffman packing. Her inability to get 30 percent support on the floor — incredibly, she got only about 5 percent.

That leaves the race for the party’s gubernatorial nomination between the frontrunner, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, and businessman Greg Lopez. The winner will face the Democratic nominee, who at this point seems likely to be either former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy or Rep. Jared Polis. The primary is June 26.

Ohio: Attorney General and former U.S.Sen. Mike DeWine, R, continues to lead for the Republican nomination in three separate polls taken in the last month. The most recent, taken last week, shows him just ten points ahead of Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. The primary takes place May 8.

Governor 2020

Missouri: Yes, the race for this office is a long way off, but the increasingly sordid story of Republican Gov. Eric Greitens should convince him to do the right thing and aside — or maybe it won’t. His mistress has just testified about his having been abusive toward her during their relationship.

The testimony comes as part of an impeachment proceeding that hopefully the Republican majority in the state legislature doesn’t have to take all the way to its bitter end. If he insists, Greitens can make himself the issue this year, but Republicans would rather have everyone focus on the Senate race that will be at the top of the ballot in Missouri this year, and beating Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.