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What's behind Paul Ryan's sudden exit

Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement that he is not seeking re-election shocked a Republican Party already facing severe ...

Posted: Apr 12, 2018 12:28 AM
Updated: Apr 12, 2018 12:28 AM

Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement that he is not seeking re-election shocked a Republican Party already facing severe midterm headwinds. His decision will drive down morale in the GOP conference -- and perhaps convince other fence-sitting members who have yet to decide to call it quits themselves. These additional open seats would increase the likelihood that Democrats will take over the House.

Despite some media fawning over his goofy opponent Randy Bryce, Ryan was not going to lose re-election in his Wisconsin district, although it now becomes a slightly less viable hold for the GOP than it would have been with Ryan in the race.

Ryan's move accelerates a GOP leadership battle between California's Kevin McCarthy and Louisiana's Steve Scalise, both able men who are well-liked by their colleagues (it feels like McCarthy's race to lose at this point). No matter who becomes the next Republican leader, they will sit atop a smaller conference that is likely to be in the minority.

Despite the chaos his departure will cause for the party, there are obviously larger issues at play for Ryan that convinced him now is the time to go.

1. Being Speaker of the House is a miserable job. Ryan was reluctantly thrust into the Speaker's office because the last guy was tired of being miserable with it. While the Republicans hold the majority, a sizable chunk of them are reliably recalcitrant and make governing difficult (there are members of the Democratic minority that have voted the Trump position at a higher rate than some of Ryan's Republicans). It shouldn't be this hard when one party controls everything, but it is.

2. Democrats are likely to win the House. Although the Democrats are making it harder than it should be for the Republicans to stay in power, the enthusiasm and gender gaps, combined with historical trends, make it likely that Democrats will win the House in November. Speaker Ryan, had he sought re-election, would have been asking for his constituents' votes and then perhaps resigning shortly after winning if the Republicans lost their majority status (as Newt Gingrich did in 1998 after losing a number of seats but keeping the majority, and Dennis Hastert did after losing the House in 2007).

Sometimes we forget -- congressional leaders have districts and constituents to think about, too. Ryan's deference to the people of Wisconsin, by not asking them to vote for him when it was very likely he wouldn't serve out his term, is an honorable move.

3. He achieved his dream of tax reform. Ryan is a policy wonk at heart, with a lifelong belief that lower taxes are better for America's working families. He has been a member of Congress for two decades, and his crowning achievement was holding the House together in December for the sweeping tax cuts.

4. Paul Ryan is a good dad. Ryan has dedicated his adult life to public service, and along the way built a wonderful family. "Ryan has said his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died of heart attacks in their 50s," according to news reports, which is why he "has never smoked, 'works out five times a week, eats healthy, gets regular checkups, avoids sweets and limits alcohol consumption.'" There's no doubt Speaker Ryan has spent less time with his three children than he would want, and surely his family's medical history weighed on his mind. I witnessed firsthand his devotion to his wife and kids riding a bus with him through Ohio during his time running for Vice-President with Mitt Romney. During his press conference, Ryan said he was concerned that, if he did not retire, his kids would only know him "as a weekend father." That's role model material for the rest of America's dads.

Ryan's announcement will signal to Republican donors and activists that the House is most likely lost, which should refocus everyone's attention on holding the US Senate. Losing one chamber will introduce a high level of policy and investigatory paralysis to the Trump administration; losing both would feel like getting sucked into the tenth level of hell for the President.

We haven't seen the last of Paul Ryan. He's 48 and I'd bet dollars to donuts he's a future presidential candidate. Leaving now helps his family and will give him some space to prep a run for The White House sometime down the road.

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