US House Speaker Paul Ryan Upends Republican Hopes and Plans for Midterm Elections


April 11, 2018

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election is a stark sign that the political chaos and divisions of the Trump era are disrupting the Republican Party in lasting ways. Representative Kevin McCarthy, right, is seen as a possible successor as the leader of House Republicans.

April 11, 2018

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election is a stark sign that the political chaos and divisions of the Trump era are disrupting the Republican Party in lasting ways. Representative Kevin McCarthy, right, is seen as a possible successor as the leader of House Republicans.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fifteen months after Republicans took full control of Washington, the man once seen as central to the party’s upbeat and inclusive future is abandoning one of the most powerful jobs in the capital, imperiling the G.O.P. grip on the House and signaling that the political convulsions of the Trump era are upending the conservative movement.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s retirement announcement on Wednesday blindsided many House Republican candidates and their campaign leaders who expected him to help them win the midterm elections in November. His decision to leave Congress at 48 also sent an undeniably pessimistic message to his party: That neither the House speaker nor President Trump has shown any real ability to bridge the internal tensions that have plagued congressional Republicans for years and made it difficult for the party to forge consensus on policy beyond the unifying issue of taxes.

But for House Republicans, and for a White House bracing for a potential Democratic impeachment inquiry, the more immediate and ominous impact of Mr. Ryan’s retirement was unmistakable: He has made it more difficult for his party to keep control of the House, where Republicans currently hold a 23-seat majority. With one decision, Mr. Ryan has turned an already difficult midterm election into a precarious task for his remaining colleagues.

“This is the nightmare scenario,” said former Representative Thomas M. Davis, a Virginia Republican. “Everybody figured he’d just hang in there till after the election.”

Mr. Ryan’s exit is a destabilizing blow to Republicans’ 2018 plans on nearly every front. He has been the party’s most important fund-raiser in the House, attending fund-raisers nearly every night he is in Washington and raising more than $54 million so far for this election. In contrast to a president who embraces chaos, Mr. Ryan has also been a reassuring figure for the business community and a source of perceived stability for restless lawmakers pondering retirement.

And Mr. Ryan has been the most important voice on the right calling for a campaign message focused on the economy and taxes, rather than the hard-right culture war issues Mr. Trump delights in stoking.

Representative Dennis A. Ross, Republican of Florida, also announced on Wednesday that he would not run for re-election. – Andrew Harnik/AP

Mr. Ryan indicated to advisers that he knows retiring will create political difficulties for the party but that he felt he could not in good conscience commit to another full two-year term, according to two Republicans familiar with the conversations.

Yet his explanation is of little comfort to those Republicans on the ballot this year who were expecting Mr. Ryan to raise millions for and campaign with lawmakers across the country. Even though he vowed to colleagues on Wednesday that he would keep fulfilling those political responsibilities, he will not be nearly as big a draw at fund-raisers now that he is a lame duck.

Former Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, a former chairman of the Republicans’ House campaign committee, said that Mr. Ryan had effectively scrambled the party’s fund-raising machinery and that other, lower-profile leaders would have to pick up the slack.

“It will be a difficult task for Paul to hold his strong, vibrant fund-raising,” Mr. Reynolds said. “When you’re a lame duck, it changes those dynamics.”

And with the candidate filing period still open in 19 states, Mr. Ryan has lost any real power to convince other wavering Republicans that they must run again.

Illustrating the party’s grim prospects, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Wednesday that it was now less likely that Republicans would keep their majority in the House than it was on Tuesday. “And yesterday they were not likely to hold the House,” he said.

As recently as last week, Mr. Ryan gathered his top political donors in Austin, Tex., to lay out the party’s strategy for the election and seek their financial support. While Mr. Ryan was noncommittal there about his plans for seeking re-election, he did not indicate his exit was imminent.

Trying to reassure his startled colleagues on Wednesday morning, Mr. Ryan told Republicans that he would “run through the tape” with them in the 2018 elections.

But it is unlikely Mr. Ryan will be able to perform his core leadership duties with the same force he has wielded up to this point. Some party strategists had already grumbled after the Texas gathering that his unwillingness to commit to running again was offering an excuse to major donors to not provide substantial contributions to House campaign efforts.

Voicing the frustration of many Republicans in the capital, Mr. Davis praised Mr. Ryan’s character but added, “Political leaders sometimes need to be a little more political.”

Mr. Davis said the party must now swiftly press its agenda, warning that Republicans cannot simply promote the recent tax overhaul in the face of the steady drip of news from the Russia investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

“They can’t wait for Mueller and be reactive,” he said. “They have gavels, they ought to be out there passing an infrastructure bill, doing something. You can’t just do four corners.”

If there is a silver lining to Mr. Ryan’s departure, it was voiced by one House Republican in a competitive district who — speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to offend the speaker — said that Democrats were now deprived of a shiny object they delighted in targeting in campaign ads. And other Republican lawmakers said they had long ago assumed that Mr. Ryan would not be around much longer.

Mr. Ryan’s announced exit also threatens to divide the rest of the Republican leadership team in the House: the second- and third-ranking House Republicans, Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, are competing to succeed Mr. Ryan. The fourth-ranking lawmaker, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, faces a difficult campaign for re-election.

Mr. Gingrich said the heirs to Mr. Ryan must quickly seize control or else doom the party.

“There will be a period of depression and confusion lasting anywhere from two to six weeks,” he said. “And then McCarthy and Scalise will realize the burden is on them to save the majority.”

“But if they go run a scared, timid and confused campaign, they’re going to lose the House and be lucky to keep the Senate,” he said.

In a sign that Republican retirements are likely to continue, Representative Dennis A. Ross of Florida, who holds a conservative-leaning but not safe seat, announced on Wednesday morning that he would leave at the end of his current term. He said on CNN that the negative atmosphere in Washington was “a factor” in his decision and urged his soon-to-be-former colleagues to brandish a Ryan-like message in the fall.

“Traditionally, in the midterm, the majority is always in trouble,” Mr. Ross said. “I would go back and tell the members to go back and protect their districts. They’ve got to run on the economy.”

More junior lawmakers, too, may take Mr. Ryan’s exit as a bracing reminder of the political environment.

Representative Peter T. King of New York, a long-serving Republican, said Mr. Ryan had played down the impact of his decision and predicted that no one would “win or lose an election based on whether Paul Ryan is the speaker.” But newer members, who may never have served under a speaker other than Mr. Ryan, had grown to see him as a kind of political security blanket, Mr. King said. There was a reassurance in trusting that Mr. Ryan “would be there if they needed campaign contributions,” he added.

“It was just a comfort zone, knowing that Paul Ryan was there, for a lot of these people,” Mr. King said, warning: “They’ll have to really learn how to run a real race.”

Courtesy/Source: NY Times


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