Well…who could have predicted this ending?
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan decided to call it quits today…and declared he would not run for re-election this fall.
Thus ends the career of one of the most potentially highly influential but ultimately failed conservatives of our lifetimes.
When Mitt Romney chose Ryan as his running mate in 2012, I was skeptical if he was the national candidate the Republicans needed or desired. I had this to say at the time:
Paul Ryan’s positives are clear: he was the leading voice for budgetary restraint long before the Tea Party existed. He was the only politician to put out a comprehensive package to reform entitlements, most specifically Medicare. No one else has come close.
But in these points lies a black cloud…which is that Ryan’s honesty about entitlements is his Achilles’ heel. The public is still not honestly discussing the reality that entitlements need to be cut. And so the Democrats have successfully demagogued Ryan over the past few months. Yes, the attacks have been false and laden with lies, but it has still hurt his standing with the general public, who often don’t look very deep into the political discourse of the day.
One thing is clear: this will excite the conservative base, in ways only picking Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal likely would have superceded. Ryan is by far the most vocal defender of conservative Reagan-style government that we have today. He truly believes in the free market. He is a true capitalist in the Milton Friedman school of economics.
Largely that was the case. Ryan could never gain traction among the moderates in the electorate in 2012, and didn’t truly provide a boost to Romney’s ill fated chances.
When John Boehner stepped down, the Republican party was adrift, still looking for a leader to steer it toward a more conservative platform. Ryan was the only man that all sides in the slowly decaying party could agree on. He was resistant to taking the job (and in hindsight, should have respected his initial feelings on the matter) but ultimately, through the force of will of his comrades as well as the general feeling that the nation was calling him to duty, he took the job.
Ryan was fine as a counterweight to Barack Obama. But then…Donald Trump arrived on the scene.
Once Trump won the nomination, Ryan was torn, but really had no choice. For all his strengths, opposing his party was not something he could bring himself to do. He was ultimately a loyal soldier, with all the flaws and negatives that come with that moniker.
In all honesty, Paul Ryan was one of my political heroes. But like the famous quote from the movie ‘The Dark Knight”, being a hero means you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Ryan ends up neither truly being a hero nor a villain. Maybe more disastrously for the country, he ends up being a run-of-the-mill establishment politician, who in the end couldn’t take the principled stands on conservatism that were required for success.