It would be difficult to overestimate the meaning of Paul Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress even as he occupies the office of Speaker of the House. So let’s estimate.
Twice in the past three years, the sitting Speaker has walked away from the office. Ryan only became Speaker because John Boehner, his predecessor, quit rather than suffer through a challenge from the bomb throwers in the Republican House conference. There’s no precedent for this in American history. The Speakership has been one of the most powerful offices in the world. Now it’s apparently more agony than ecstasy for a Republican.
.. A Republican likely won’t be elected speaker after the 2018 midterms. Ryan’s decision suggests he and others have seen enough internal data to know their capacity to hold their 23-seat majority is slipping away.
.. That makes 42 GOP retirements among the 237 Republican members of the 115th Congress—a number vastly higher than any recent Congress’s.
.. the Ryan retirement isn’t just a sign. It’s like a fireball from the sky. And it will occasion more retreats and embolden more Democrats.
.. the GOP is Trump’s party now, not Ryan’s.
.. His mercurial nature and habit of punching down have combined with general GOP support for Trump personally to prevent any such rump from emerging in the Congress. He’s already claimed the scalps of two Republican senators—Bob Corker and Jeff Flake—who attempted to do just that. How did their standing athwart Trump help them or anyone?
.. some of the GOP’s wonkier agenda items are being implemented by the Trump administration–notably, in the sphere of deregulation. So, yes, it’s Trump’s party, but there’s an extent to which it’s also Ryan’s party, the conservative policy wonk’s party. Except, of course, for two big things.
The first big thing is entitlement reform, which is the issue nearest to Ryan’s heart.
.. No matter what happens, no matter the growth of the economy or the glories of #MAGA, the remorseless logic of the actuarial charts showing the government going bankrupt from the cost of Medicare and Medicaid sometime around 2030 is unyielding
.. The second big thing is the massive federal deficit, which is projected to stay above the $1 trillion mark for God knows how long. The bitter irony here is that the Tea Party–whose ab nihilo existence began the Republican resurgence in the House and Senate, and whose anti-Establishment ethos was the precursor to Trump–was obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama was breaking the bank, and rightly so. Now, the Tea Party forms the hard schist of the Republican base, and it’s clearly decided not to hold Trump accountable