Goodbye to Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan will be retiring from congress this November. He is unlikely to return, despite being a shoo-in for (re)election in the future. The landscape is different now than anything he ever envisioned, with a blustering, ignorant demagogue barking orders at anyone and everyone in sight. Or insults of course. Paul Ryan was not made for these times. He is fading away quickly.[1]

John Boehner resigned from the House after years of futility trying to wrangle the Freedom Caucus into line with mainstream GOP policy. He is by all accounts a happier person today; occasionally surfacing to proffer his opinions on his old buddies seems to sufficiently satisfy any remaining politics jones[2]. Thus Paul Ryan, wunderkind and future face of the GOP was handed the thankless task of Speaker of the House in 2015.

Although it is not inconceivable that dealing with luminaries such as Jim Jordan and his flock would be enough to force Ryan (and everyone else) to flee to the nearest golf course, it is clear that the tipping point in the abrupt cessation of Ryan’s once bright political future is Trump, and Trumpism.

It is important to understand that Paul Ryan has had just 2 employers in his adult life: his family’s business and the federal government.[3] Ryan is essentially a career politician, propelled to easy electoral victories by his family’s dominance of private and public life in Janesville, his hometown in Wisconsin. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it hasn’t been that rough a road to head of the House for young Paul. And that is the most ironic part of the whole equation: the ride was going to stay smooth, as the party was bending over backward to hand him the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Had he announced his candidacy he would have been the prohibitive favorite. Alas, it was a nomination he did not want in the slightest.

In 2012, running with deeply flawed and out of touch Mitt Romney, Ryan got a taste of what national politics were like. Although largely (not entirely) insulated from the anything goes rough and tumble of a national run, Ryan got full exposure to the way insults, invective and completely unfounded ‘rumors’ and ‘theories’ were flung back and forth. Unlike inside operators like the Clintons and Bushes, or gifted orators such as Reagan and Obama who relished the public forum, or even a borderline sociopath like Donald Trump, who needs a constant stream of real or imagined enemies to rant against while various cronies and bandwaggoneers cheer him on, Paul Ryan does not have the stomach for public conflict.

Compared to oily, ambition-addled ideologues like Ted Cruz or plodding career hacks like Jeb Bush, Ryan was a breath of fresh air. And he certainly looks better too. The problem is, not only was his ambition remarkably lacking compared to his peers, so were his goals. Despite perpetual mumbling about Entitlement Reform, and pointing to the ridiculous, deficit-swelling 2017 tax cut as a signature career accomplishment (coming in the wake of the continuous humiliation of failing to kill off the evil socialist Obamacare, among other conspicuous legislative non-starters), it is hard to pinpoint any real core beliefs belonging to Paul Ryan, outside of a deep commitment to transferring wealth and resources from poor to rich. The House was simply a natural stop for a wealthy and popular ‘businessman’ who has never had to look for a job.

Ryan naturally inherited opportunities that staunch Republican standard-bearers such as Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio have worked their whole careers to get a sniff of. The Vice-presidential nomination was handed to him with no lobbying on his part; it is still uncertain whether his heart was in it. Certainly his campaigning in 2012, despite the familiar half-smile and easygoing manner, was lackluster. Even so, Ryan escaped the election with his reputation as the GOP’s brightest new star intact. The 2016 nomination was his to lose. But …he wanted no part of it. He was out before anyone could put him in.

What Ryan enjoyed were his wonky closed door GOP policy meetings, where he and his various spreadsheets could outline his case for ‘Entitlement Reform’, the impending Social Security crisis, and various other arguments in favor of increasing income and wealth inequality. The obeisance to graphs and policy papers contributed heavily to Ryan’s burgeoning reputation as the intellectual stalwart of the Republican Party, the face of the future and the moral underpinning for basing government policy on Ayn Rand novels.

After a while these sessions invariably induced both eye-rolling and complete ennui among his colleagues. The donor class was going to get paid with or without his spreadsheets, and his ‘proof’ that only funneling more resources to the rich would avert financial disaster was eventually met with indifference. Well of course – no math calculations needed here, Paul.

In the age of Trump, no one (certainly not Trump), has any interest in spreadsheets, or in calculations or premeditated policy of any kind. Ryan waffled for some time before endorsing Trump, but endorse him he did. After a few months where Ryan played “will he or won’t he”, he not only endorsed Trump but remained increasingly silent as his party pivoted overtly to one openly driven by racism and demagoguery. With nary a spreadsheet in sight. And Ryan has gradually been retreating from any skirmish at all with the new normal. The Trump cabal’s and the Freedom Caucus’ repeated attacks on Ryan were enough writing on the wall for him.[4] A golf date with John Boehner looks better all the time.

  1. In a modern slice of ignominy, typing “Paul” into a browser search field reveals the following suggestions for last names: George, D (“Pauly D’), Rudd, Walker, Patton (‘Paula Patton’), Simon, Bettany, Getty, Shore and Newman. No suggestions for Ryan. The list includes 3 dead people.
  2. In May 2017 Boehner notoriously was quoted that “Everything he’s <Trump> done (in office) has been a complete disaster <with the exception of foreign policy>” https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/john-boehner-calls-trump-a-complete-disaster See also https://www.cbsnews.com/news/john-boehner-says-there-is-no-republican-party-theres-a-trump-party/ for the latest.
  3. Strictly speaking this is not true, but realistically Ryan’s political career was launched by his and his wife’s various professional networks and contacts. The only job he has held outside of politics since college was briefly with Ryan Inc. Central, a road grading company that is part of his extended family’s construction empire. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/25/nation/la-na-ryan-assets-20120826
  4. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-bannon-paul-ryan-breitbart-trump_us_596dfdfce4b0b95f893e00b0https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/paul-ryan-freedom-caucus-meadows/553922/