Yes, folks, you read that headline correctly. In a story broken by Axios this morning, Paul Ryan, the 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives, will retire from Congress at the end of this current session, becoming the first sitting Speaker to forgo re-election in an election year since Democrat Carl Albert in 1976.
Rumors that Ryan would retire had been rife since early this year. Sources insisted that with his tax bill passed and his legislative dream accomplished, he didn’t need to run for another term. Others insisted his fear of being unseated by Randy “Iron Stache” Bryce, the Democratic candidate and powerhouse fundraiser running for his seat, weighed heavily on him. Whatever the reason, we won’t have him to kick around anymore.
Ryan was first elected as representative of Wisconsin’s first district in 1998. That same year, Republicans lost more House seats than expected due to then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s insistence to double down on the Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton. The decision proved a costly one, as Gingrich was forced to retire when he learned he wouldn’t have the support of his party for another term as Speaker.
After taking office, Ryan became a vocal advocate for fiscal austerity, pushing for a widely-criticized budget that chopped social programs while adding substantially to military spending. Issues like this caused the media to portray Ryan as the “intellectual” face of the Republican Party under Obama, even though his ideas didn’t hold up to scrutiny. He ran for Vice President with Mitt Romney in 2012 and after losing, seemed destined to appear on the pages of “What Happened To…” like almost every other man who sought the Vice Presidency and lost.
But then House Speaker John Boehner announced his retirement towards the end of 2015. Boehner, famous for his relentless obstruction of Barack Obama, and for helping spearhead a two-week long government shutdown in 2013, left office as the least popular Speaker in three decades. An internal leadership skirmish within the GOP led them to hand the gavel to Ryan, who reluctantly assumed the position later that year. Once he did, he gave his predecessor a run for his money in terms of popularity.
In a brief press conference this morning, Ryan said he was retiring to spend more time with his family, adding, “This is a job that does not last forever. You’d better make the most of it. It’s fleeting. And that inspires you to do big things, and on that score, I think we have achieved a heck of a lot. I have given this job everything that I have, and I have no regrets whatsoever.”
More disingenuous words are hard to come by. Ryan’s only major legislative achievement as House Speaker has been passing his budget through the House in the form of the 2017 tax cuts, which gives millions to the rich while gutting Obamacare, increasing the military budget, and even authorizing for oil drilling in Alaska. When a reporter criticized him this morning for quitting before the bill increases our national debt, he responded by repeatedly insisting that he was “extremely proud” of it.
Ryan’s other “achievement” as Speaker – or lack of one – was his refusal to disavow Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. He waffled on endorsing him, derided his remarks towards Judge Gonzalo Curiel as “racist,” and refused to defend him following the release of the Access Hollywood tape, but he always tacitly supported him, telling Mett the Press’s Chuck Todd, “The last thing I want to see happen is another Democrat in the White House. I don’t want to see Hillary Clinton as president.”
Two weeks ago, the Banter’s Ben Cohen called Ryan “a spineless, gutless shadow of a man who sold his soul for some perceived short-term political gain and now realizes the show is about to end.” The spineless meme had gone so viral that someone Wikipedia-bombed his page last year with this:
Like the other retiring Republicans this year, Ryan will likely continue his streak of doing nothing to disavow President Trump or lend a hand towards liberal causes, like preserving net neutrality. He will go down in history as one of the worst Speakers of all time, someone whose reluctance to stand up for our sacred constitutional values contributed to the election of a disgraceful cretin as our President. In the meantime, I encourage all reading this to donate to one of the Democratic candidates running to replace Ryan this November: the aforementioned Randy Bryce, or schoolteacher Cathy Myers. With either one of them, Democrats could have a shot at taking back the Badger State from the Koch Brothers and their goons.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.