In 2016, Wisconsin turned red for Donald Trump but Paul Ryan’s Janesville remained stubbornly blue—so perhaps it is no surprise that the speaker of the House won’t seek re-election. For Republicans, this is an unalloyed good. For his entire career, Mr. Ryan has been the wunderkind who couldn’t deliver.
As the No. 2 on the Romney ticket in 2012, he was supposed to add youth, depth and a key that would unlock coveted Midwestern electoral votes. He didn’t do that, either. It required the New Yorker Donald Trump to pick that lock.
This didn’t worry Mr. Ryan’s many supporters among the Republican ruling class. Congress, they assured us, was his natural habitat. In 2015, his reputation for policy-oriented nerdiness got him the chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he was supposed to reform the nation’s entire fiscal regime with a superhuman knowledge of both the details and the substance of the nation’s finances. He didn’t.
Undaunted, Mr. Ryan took the speaker’s chair later that year after playing Hamlet and claiming implausibly that he didn’t want the job and would accept it only if Republicans thrust it upon him. He promised fidelity to the conservative catechism and a return to budget sanity, but he didn’t follow through. His fecklessness led the Tea Party base that had swept him and his colleagues to power to grow even more disenchanted with the Republican congressional leadership.
For seven years, the leadership raised countless millions of dollars and won first the House, then the Senate, and finally the presidency, in part by promising to repeal Obamacare. Nothing was more central to Republican identity between 2010 and the rise of President Trump. But when given the chance, Mr. Ryan couldn’t get the House to pass repeal. The bill the House finally sent to the Senate wasn’t a repeal but a dilution. It never became law, either.
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