Paul Ryan’s Long (and Annoying) Good-Bye

It’s been obvious for two years that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has no intention of helping Republicans keep their congressional majority, since that would also mean helping President Donald Trump. Not something he’s ever been eager to do.

Now Ryan seems to be saying it wouldn’t bother him if Republicans lose in November, as long as they do it for what he calls “the right reasons.”

That’s the basic message in a pre-midterm video Ryan recently emailed to his congressional colleagues. During the 57-second communiqué he offers his parting thoughts on sacrificing career ambitions for an unspecified greater good.

“We have people who are here [in Congress],” Ryan says, “who want to do the right thing for the right reasons, who believe in principles and getting things done and they’re willing to lose their seat over it.”

Left unmentioned is what “the right thing” might be, or why anyone in the GOP majority should have to lose his or her seat for doing it.

If November 6 is D-Day, Ryan sounds like he’s preparing his troops for defeat. Fortunately, most stopped paying attention to him a long time ago.

The video is classic Ryan, high minded and faint hearted at the same time, saying more about his inclination to be a risk-averse politician than anything else.

When he was first elected to the House 20 years ago, he says he noticed “a lot of be-ers and doers.”

Here’s how Ryan sees things: “Be-ers are people who come to be somebody—to be called Congressman, to have a title, to have a lapel pin, and to be important and be in the press . . . And then there are doers—people who actually believe in principles, ideas, and want to fight for those ideas no matter the consequences.”

No wonder Donald Trump used to call him a “boy scout.” Ryan told The New York Times at first he thought the president intended it as a compliment. It took him a while to figure out it wasn’t. “So I guess he meant it as an insult all along,” he said. “I didn’t realize.”

Ryan ends his in-House infomercial with this bit of advice: “The most important thing for people here is not to get re-elected; it’s to get something done . . . ”

That makes three references to losing elections in less than a minute, without a single mention of winning. Not exactly the kind of pep talk you’d expect from a leader, until you remember the kind of weak, ineffective leader Ryan has been.

Most Republican members can’t wait for him to leave, but are reluctant to say so publicly when the party needs to appear united going into a must-win election.

Taking on the Washington establishment, as Trump has done, has never been Ryan’s style, since he’s part of it. Before announcing his retirement he calculated that when the next Congress is sworn in Republicans would be the House minority. And almost certainly that would mean impeachment, a process he could better use to his advantage as a former Speaker.

It’s generally agreed that Ryan’s Capitol Hill connections will lead to a bright future in lobbying. But during the required one-year waiting period before cashing in on K Street there’s talk he’ll become a TV analyst for what promises to be an action-packed 2019.

After commenting in the Times interview on how much the president enjoys calling out “non-Trumpers” in the media, Ryan was asked if he’s a non-Trumper. His reply: “Sometimes, yeah.”

A network job would allow him to snipe at Donald Trump the same way he does now, only to a bigger audience. But it would also expose him to possible income-damaging counterattacks from the president such as he never saw as Speaker. That has to concern him.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), now a Washington lobbyist, came to the House in 1999, the same year Ryan did. When he heard his old pal was retiring, Reynolds predicted in Bloomberg News that Ryan could be a star on the lecture circuit or at the think tank of his choice, but he will certainly want to “keep his options open” for the right political opportunity.

What that might be isn’t hard to imagine. Ryan, who has his own White House aspirations, makes it clear he’d like to see Trump removed from office so Washington can get back to normal.

Yet even in the unlikely event that were to happen, Ryan’s the last person angry Republicans would turn to in 2020. As Mitt Romney’s running mate six years ago he was an unqualified flop. And the president’s millions of supporters, who see him as a failure comparable to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will never forget his abject performance as House Speaker.

Maybe he could run as a Democrat.

Photo Credit: Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images

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About Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas is the author of Club Fed: Power, Money Sex and Violence on Capitol Hill as well as other books, and the co-author of Red Tape: Adventure Capitalism in the New Russia. He is also a former editor and writer with The Economist Group.

Photo: WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivers remarks during his weekly press conference on June 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)