How Paul Ryan’s retirement will have a huge midterm impact on the Republican Party

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan
Michael Vick

US House speaker Paul Ryan has announced he won’t seek reelection in November. And the move spells disaster for Republicans in the House already facing tough midterm elections.

Ryan leaves open seat for Dems to claim

Ryan’s announced retirement has sent political shockwaves from Washington all the way back to his Wisconsin congressional district.

Ryan’s likely Democratic opponent, union ironworker Randy Bryce, was already within single digits of Ryan in an internal poll. He also raised an impressive $2.1m in the first three months of 2018. And Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Bryce last fall.

Still, unseating a sitting speaker of the House is nearly unprecedented in US history. So without Ryan in the race, Bryce stands a much greater chance of winning the seat.

So far, the pro-Republican field is unimpressive. Paul Nehlen, who has called himself “pro-white” and frequently targets Jewish media figures and Jews generally, is one of only two announced candidates.

The other, Nick Polce, served in the US Army special forces and is a first-time candidate.

With less than two months left before the 1 June filing deadline, the GOP is likely to put up a more mainstream challenger.

Ryan’s retirement means GOP all but gives up the House

Ryan’s seat, however, isn’t the only one in doubt. His retirement suggests that, at the highest levels of Republican leadership, conservatives hold out little hope of keeping the House in GOP hands.

If Ryan thought he could hold all but a slim majority, he would’ve stuck around. But now, donors seem to know he’s given up hope.

The focus now shifts to the Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell holds a slim advantage. McConnell had already focused his fundraising on the idea that Democrats could take the House.

Ryan leaves behind unfinished business

Republicans have long campaigned to repeal Obamacare and decimate what remains of the social safety net — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Ryan managed neither.

His last major achievement did tee up both. The massive $1.5tn tax cut Ryan helped ram through Congress will blow a giant hole in the budget. And Republicans will surely demand that Congress balance the books on the backs of working families.

What’s next?

Ryan’s retirement will set up a months-long fight over the speaker’s gavel. As Politico reported, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy and majority whip Steve Scalise were already angling for the job in case Ryan retired.

Neither man has a clear shot at the title, and the fight itself could prove bruising to the party.

As far as Ryan’s concerned:

Ryan also ran for vice president with Mitt Romney in 2012. And his close friends say he still has eyes on higher office.

While Ryan could sit out the 2020 election, a damaged Trump could prove an irresistible target for a GOP primary challenger. Ohio Governor John Kasich has already hinted he’s considering a run. And Ryan and Kasich are among the few Republicans with the national stature to take on a sitting president.

Ryan’s main advantage? His deep ties with the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch, right-wing libertarian billionaires who lead a political donor network, have huge influence in the Republican Party.

In the meantime, Ryan can make lots of money on the lecture circuit, and will likely have his pick of highly-paid jobs in the private sector.

Get Involved

Read more about the two progressive Democratic challengers who have declared their run for Ryan’s seat: Randy Bryce and Cathy Myers. (So far, no independent progressive has thrown their hat in the ring.) You can also find Bryce (@IronStache) and Myers (@CathyMyersWI) on Twitter.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

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