Evidently realizing that he might drown in the blue wave that is inundating Wisconsin, Paul Ryan announced his retirement today.
He has suggested that he might quit before, but now the Speaker faces the real prospect of involuntary ejection from Congress. He is showing the white feather, running from a midterm fight that his party appears increasingly likely to lose.
Ryan always got much better media coverage than he deserved — as a reputed policy wonk, although his numbers never added up, and as a supposed compassionate conservative, although he thrilled at cutting Medicaid. He reportedly has proclaimed himself satisfied with the legacy of last year’s Trump tax cut, whose massive tilt toward the wealthiest in society reflects his career perfectly.
The timing of the announcement was perfect in a different way. Ryan has always styled himself a fiscal conservative, but yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office revealed the deep fraudulence of that image with a report showing that the federal deficit will break one trillion dollars within the next two years, and that the Trump-Ryan tax bill will add almost $2 trillion to the cumulative deficit over the coming decade. Math was never his best subject.
Enamored with ultra-libertarian kookoo Ayn Rand at an early age, Ryan never outgrew her “virtue of selfishness” philosophy, which inspired his enduring hostility to Medicare and Social Security as well as Medicaid. He adopted that attitude during his college years, even while he received survivor benefits from his late father’s Social Security account — as stark an example of Republican hypocrisy as any in national politics.
Despite his determination to slash “entitlements,” Ryan was never able to achieve that objective. He succeeded only in making his party synonymous with efforts by the rich to destroy the government’s most popular and effective programs — which has proved ruinous politically and will remain an albatross for Republicans long after he is gone.
Much credit for driving Ryan from the national scene may very well belong to his Democratic opponent Randy Bryce, who is raising millions and demonstrating great determination as a candidate. And much credit for recruiting Bryce — an outspoken ironworker known as #IronStache — is owed to the Wisconsin Working Families Party.
But #IronStache isn’t the Republicans’ only headache in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. At the moment, the leading candidate for their nomination to succeed Ryan is a neo-Nazi.