Speaker Paul Ryan’s announcement that he is not seeking re-election shocked a Republican Party already facing severe midterm headwinds. His decision will drive down morale in the GOP conference and perhaps convince other fence-sitting members who have yet to decide to call it quits themselves. These additional open seats would increase the likelihood that Democrats will take over the House.
Despite some media fawning over his goofy opponent Randy Bryce, Ryan was not going to lose re-election in his Wisconsin district, although it now becomes a slightly less viable hold for the GOP than it would have been with Ryan in the race.
Ryan’s move accelerates a GOP leadership battle between California’s Kevin McCarthy and Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, both able men who are well-liked by their colleagues (it feels like McCarthy’s race to lose at this point). No matter who becomes the next Republican leader, they will sit atop a smaller conference that is likely to be in the minority.
Despite the chaos his departure will cause for the party, there are obviously larger issues at play for Ryan that convinced him now is the time to go.
1. Being Speaker of the House is a miserable job. Ryan was reluctantly thrust into the Speaker’s office because the last guy was tired of being miserable with it. While the Republicans hold the majority, a sizable chunk of them are reliably recalcitrant and make governing difficult (there are members of the Democratic minority that have voted the Trump position at a higher rate than some of Ryan’s Republicans). It shouldn’t be this hard when one party controls everything, but it is.
2. Democrats are likely to win the House. Although the Democrats are making it harder than it should be for the Republicans to stay in power, the enthusiasm and gender gaps, combined with historical trends, make it likely that Democrats will win the House in November. Speaker Ryan, had he sought re-election, would have been asking for his constituents’ votes and then perhaps resigning shortly after winning if the Republicans lost their majority status (as Newt Gingrich did in 1998 after losing a number of seats but keeping the majority, and Dennis Hastert did after losing the House in 2007).