Like virtually every thought he ever thunk, Paul Ryan’s plan, announced a little over a week ago not to run for re-election, but to remain Speaker until his term ends nevertheless, is a harebrained scheme: he would be in charge of the House for nearly 9 months as a lame duck, and if he couldn’t get much of anything done when there was a prospect that he would be around for a long time—as, in fact, he couldn’t—, there’s no reason to hope that his record will be better now that he’s officially Yesterday’s Man. And not only that: how can the House GOP expect to buck the trend of the party controlling the White House suffering heavy losses in the Congressional election, if a professional politician who is the incarnation of the GOP Establishment remains the public face of the caucus?
The situation would be different if the Republicans had accomplished much more than they in fact have over the last Congress; then the likelihood that they would accomplish very little new in the time remaining before the election would not be so serious. The situation would be different again if the Democrats held the White House, and the Republicans could therefore expect to gain seats in the House even with a lackluster Speaker; then there would be no harm in delaying the leadership election until November or December.
Inside the Beltway people are wondering whether Ryan’s protestations about wanting to spend more time with his children are genuine, or whether he is leaving for some other reason, such as the conviction that the Republicans will lose the House, or because he still inwardly feels the same aversion to Donald Trump which he did not disguise before the Republican convention, and then tried to disguise during the campaign, only to bail on him in October; and since then he has had to support Trump, or at least to pretend to do so, which would be wearing, if it is all an act.
But, regardless of his reasons, Ryan’s decision to retire from Congress is an unmixed blessing. The Congress will be a better place for his leaving it, and the House GOP will be better off, too, especially if they jettison him in advance of the election. Since the caucus is not unified—Mark Meadows (R-NC) has said that Ryan is the only Member who currently could muster the votes to serve as Speaker—, Ryan probably could continue to serve as Speaker if he ran again—assuming Republicans could hold the House with him continuing as Speaker—, but less out of enthusiasm for him than from lack of a viable alternative; his decision to leave therefore forces the caucus to unify around someone else, which in turn—if done sooner rather than later—greatly improves the chances of Republicans holding the House.
No doubt Ryan would like to stay on at least until October 29th, his 3rd anniversary as Speaker, but too much is at stake for us to trouble ourselves about the feelings of someone whose whole career has exhibited callous disregard for the welfare and safety of the American people. Ryan doesn’t deserve any special consideration. He began the new Congress by failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, something House Republicans had been pledging to do since the campaign of 2010, in which they recaptured control of the body; one could say in his defense that the first attempt was cancelled in order to avoid embarrassment, because they knew that they lacked the votes to repeal Obamacare (despite having repeatedly done so in “show votes” when the Democrats held the Senate, or while Obama was still in office), and that it was not his fault that many Republican Members of Congress had been flat-out lying about their opposition to Obamacare. They later did manage to pass a version of repeal-and-replace which was designed to comply with Senate reconciliation rules and so require a simple majority, but John McCain then stepped into the role twice ably played by John Roberts, and saved Obamacare from destruction. Although both Houses of Congress finally passed a tax cut by the end of the year, last month they passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus which does fund the military at higher levels, but otherwise fully funds all Democrat domestic priorities, such as Planned Parenthood, while containing very little money for border security.
To give credit where credit is due, as far as Ryan is concerned: he spends a lot of time raising money, and has been quite successful at it. The downside of that success is that his time in Washington, when not performing his official duties, is reserved for lobbyists, and that his time outside of Washington is largely spent with the donor class. In other words: he spends his time with the richest of the rich, and then assumes that their concerns are the concerns of real Americans. Nothing shows how out of touch he is better than his resistance to Trump in 2016; despite his reluctance and slowness to endorse Trump, and then turning on him in October, Trump not only won his home state—something he couldn’t do himself when he when he was on the ticket with Romney four years earlier—, but also won his own district, the 1st district in Wisconsin, by 11 points over Crooked (53%-42%), more than doubling the 5 points by which Romney and he had won the district over Obama (52%-47%).
The hour is late, but not too late for House Republicans to minimize their losses and retain their majority, if they seize the opportunity presented by the retirement of Ryan and force him to give up his gavel by the end of July, if not sooner. Paul Ryan stands for elitism, indifference, cluelessness, and failure. Let him serve out his term as a Congressman; he was elected by the people of his district, after all. But the caucus should dump him in advance of the election; the salvation of their majority might well require it. They should get rid of him soon enough for his successor to show that things will be different going forward; the end of July, before the August recess, is the very latest date which should be considered; they might consider replacing him before the July 4th recess, since they could then build some momentum under the new leadership before the long August recess.
Regardless when the new Speaker is elected, and regardless who is chosen, the goal of the caucus should be to make the base and the wider electorate believe that the Members running for re-election, and the Republican candidates in other districts, under new leadership will now begin to work with the President to Drain the Swamp and Make America Great Again, rather than with the Establishment of both parties and against the President, as has routinely been the case with Ryan and McConnell as leaders.
The Trump tax cut is not a small accomplishment, but other than that the Republicans do not have much to show for this Congress so far; it is as if they forgot that all of the Representatives and one-third of the senators would be up for re-election in 2018. Most of the credit for deregulation goes to the Administration rather than Congress; it is true that the Congressional Review Act was used a number of times to repeal regulations in 2017, and that the CRA is now being expanded beyond rules to other types of regulatory activity, such as “guidance’s,” but the problem with emphasizing use of the CRA as a campaign issue is that it would take too long to explain it to voters, most of whom will have never heard either of it or of the specific regulation which was overturned.
Congressional Republicans should not simply cross their fingers and hope that the economic benefits from tax cuts and deregulation will sufficiently minimize their losses. The House should vote to approve any rescissions (proposals to rescind funds) made by the President in the near future, and by so doing pressure the Senate to act, although this effort, even if it succeeded, while quite rare and therefore not insignificant, would nevertheless probably only win back a little of the ground lost in the last omnibus.
The fact that the fiscal year starts on October 1st, gives the GOP a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that they have turned over a new leaf. Republicans should fund the wall at last, defund Special Counsel Robert Mueller (if he is still around), Planned Parenthood (as long as they conduct abortions), and sanctuary jurisdictions, plus either insist that the Senate take up the separate appropriations bills, or include in any omnibus line-item veto authority for the President (which Justice Scalia in an opinion said could be devised in such a way as to be Constitutional).
Before the August recess, the House should also pass a bill—even though the Senate probably would not act on it before the election—aimed at making health insurance affordable for those in the individual market, which means repealing the Obamacare regulations at last, allowing consumers to design their own policies and providers to sell health insurance across state lines; the goal should be access to health insurance which most people can afford to buy without costly subsidies (which only drive up the price of insurance, just as grants and loans intended to help students have made college unaffordable); the inability of the GOP to keep its promise on the repeal of Obamacare will be a drag on all Republicans in 2018, but the fiasco is too big to ignore, and probably there is more to be gained by promising not to give up trying than by pretending that the whole spectacular failure never happened.
Heavy losses in the House are not a foregone conclusion. The Democrats will have the mainstream media on their side, but they are the one institution in the country with lower popularity than the Congress. Fortunately for the Republicans, given their apparent inability to frame issues or strategize, the Democrats themselves often prove to be their own worst enemy: they have after all kept Nancy Pelosi as their House leader, and she has now returned to calling the tax cuts “pathetic”; since the Democrats apparently are stupid enough to pledge to repeal the tax cuts, GOP candidates should pledge not only to keep them, but to make them permanent, and begin to focus on that issue as one of the central issues of the campaign. Despite the media cooperating with the Democrats to portray the tax cut as a bad thing, as the economy continues to grow, Republicans will be able to ask people whether they’re going to believe the Democrats and the MSM, or their own lying eyes.
In short, under new leadership it should be quite possible for House Republicans to energize the base and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Except for a small number of holier-than-thou malcontents, the Republican base expects the Republican Congress to help the Republican President, not hinder him. And many of the professional politicians could learn a thing or two from him, novice though he is. At least when President Trump doesn’t keep a promise, it’s not for lack of trying; it is easy to get the impression that he is, in fact, the only Republican in Washington actually trying to keep his promises. House Republicans, in particular, should emulate the President in that respect, and it wouldn’t hurt for them to show, in addition, that they are willing to fight the Democrats to get federal spending and the Deep State under control, and that the President, despite appearances thus far, in reality is not the only Republican in Washington with a backbone.