House Speaker Paul Ryan didn’t quite yell “abandon ship” Wednesday when he announced he would not be seeking re-election, but he came close. His departure, which won’t come until January of next year, is too little, too late to save the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In making his announcement, reminding us all he did not want the job but rather took it out of a sense of obligation, he said he’d accomplished what he wanted to do. Yes, the Congress passed tax reform and the president signed it, but he’s little else to show for his three years in charge.
Perhaps he should have listened to his gut when it told him to remain chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means a job, frankly, for which he was much better suited. He’s a policy wonk who can decipher a spreadsheet with the best of them but he’s also a creature of Washington which makes him the wrong man at this moment in history.
Ryan never seemed to grasp that the people who voted for Donald Trump did so out of a desire to see Washington stood on its head. Temperamentally he’s was a much better fit for the likes of Mitt Romney, who chose him as his running mate in 2012 and the other members of the Washington establishment than he is for the people who have joined the crusade to save the city by, if necessary, first burning it to the ground.
Whatever gifts he may have for policy matters and for fundraising, which he did prodigiously, Ryan’s ear for politics was made of tin. His leadership was less than inspiring when the ideas involved were outside his wheelhouse.
His final accomplishment, if you can call it that, was a bunker buster of an omnibus bill that blew the hard-won spending caps established by Obama and his immediate predecessor as speaker, Ohio’s John Boehner, into the next universe. There’s simply no excuse for a Republican-controlled Congress, even one with a majority as precarious as it now is in the U.S. Senate to have passed a bill as reckless as what Ryan and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sent to the president. Better a weeks’ long government shut down than that monstrosity.
It’s possible Ryan can redeem himself from that particular sin by getting behind a movement that’s begun to have President Trump send to Congress a proposal to undo some of the new spending just approved. If he did it would provide a much-needed shot in the arm to voters concerned about tax and spend issues who are now in a funk over the omnibus and are having trouble remembering why having Ryan as speaker is preferable to California’s Nancy Pelosi.
Announcing his decision now a remarkably un-glorious even selfish move. He’s waved the white flag, getting out while the getting’s good no matter what happens in the next election. He may want it to appear he’s still engaged but he’s made it clear it’s every man and woman for themselves come November. That’s not leadership.