Ryan decision satisfies his supporters
Finally, House Speaker Paul Ryan edged President Donald Trump out of the nation’s attention.
The Wisconsin Republican’s astonishing announcement that he would not seek another term rocked Washington in a way that almost nothing Trump has done, said, threatened or tweeted.
That is a high achievement in an age where — coast to coast, continent to continent — the president has been part of almost every conversation, the source of hope and despair, the object of wonder and horror.
Of course Ryan’s decision was prompted in large measure by Trump, the planet in the political solar system that has warped the orbit of other heavenly bodies.
For Ryan, there were few rewards in occupying a job that once carried the title “czar” (as in Czar Reed, House Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine, who ruled Washington at the end of the 19th century) and only to find himself feeling like an apparatchik.
It was frustrating to be forced to follow the lead of a libertine when he had the mien of an altar boy at St. John Vianney Catholic Church. It was mortifying to watch his profile slide from visionary, which Ryan owned for a decade in the capital, to victim, a status his facial expression and drooping shoulders constantly revealed.
Speed back to 2012 and recall the reaction when Mitt Romney selected Ryan as his running mate. Swiftly he emerged as the face of the Republican future. When he made his announcement Wednesday, it was incontrovertible that his (drawn and fatigued) face made it clear he now was the battered standard bearer of a distant Republican past.
Ryan’s selection represented a break from the party’s past and placed it on a trajectory envisioned by ex-Rep. Jack Kemp of Hamburg, who characterized himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative.”
Emotional appeals breaking with the buttoned-down Republican character. An outreach to minorities to recapture the Lincoln tradition. Support of immigrants and a celebration of their passage to America as an embrace of the nation’s finest values. But Trump displaced Ryan as the principal architect of revolution.
Many conservatives believed Ryan — intelligent, creative, committed –would be a counterpoint to the president, or at least a checkpoint for the president. Neither happened.
Trump waded into several legislative areas with the grudging and spare advice of the speaker, who has been on Capitol Hill on and off for a quarter-century and a congressman for almost two decades. This never was a partnership– Ryan was the repository of resentment from those on the right, and a few on the left, who expected the speaker to speak up.
While Ryan was steeped in the thinking of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman, Trump almost certainly could not describe with any authority these men. Intellectual acuity is no guarantee of capital success — Jimmy Carter is the poster boy for that truth — but serious application to important thought is seldom a disadvantage.
Moreover, while the president may have the best political instincts of any chief executive since Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan, he lacks the institutional political skills of those men, who cumulatively sat in gubernatorial chairs for almost two decades and had six presidential campaigns under their belt. They were governors, not gadflies.
Much has been made of the political effect of the Ryan decision. The instant analysis was it was a symbol of Republican hopelessness months before the midterm congressional elections.
The Ryan decision puts even more emphasis, and pressure, on Senate races, which are more complicated, more expensive, and more visible than House contests. The GOP majority in the upper chamber is 51-49.
With an unpredictable, unconventional and unusually volatile president in the White House — and with vital issues such as immigration, health care and entitlement overhaul begging for attention — few midterm congressional elections in modern time have loomed as quite so consequential.
Ryan was expected to — perhaps was born to — deal with all three of those questions, all of which he has examined with unusual depth. Now he is in retreat and nearly in retirement. But he finally has done what his supporters yearned.
He has captured the nation’s attention, though not necessarily its admiration.