This article appeared in my Newsmax column on April 18, 2018.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced on Wednesday that he will not seek reelection in 2018, ending a 20-year-long congressional career from the Wisconsin representative.
Ryan’s tenure in the House of Representatives was fraught with challenges, but laced with success. He quickly earned the respect of his Republican colleagues and shepherded the House through major legislative successes such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts. However, his critics often accused him of spinelessness, especially in his refusal to stand up to President Trump’s often inflammatory and unconventional leadership. Ryan’s departure sends a huge blow to the Republican Party just months before the 2018 midterm elections that threaten to ruin their majority and will likely dust up a storm of candidates vying to fill Ryan’s shoes.
Despite rumors circulating for months that Ryan had soured on his position as Speaker, the Congressman’s announcement was a major shakeup in the ranks of the GOP. Nearly 30 other House Republicans have announced their outright retirement, while Democrats need just 23 seats to regain the majority. Adding Wisconsin’s first district to the list of up-for-grabs seats threatens to invigorate Democrats and force Republicans to invest much more time and money in races once thought to be safe for the GOP.
With Ryan tapping out, Republican candidates for Wisconsin’s first Congressional district include an anti-Semitic white nationalist who has been banned from Twitter, and a politically inexperienced ex-Green Beret with a vendetta for career politicians. On the other side, Democrats’ best shot at flipping the deeply red seat lies in a union ironworker nicknamed “IronStache.” Democrats already average an 8-point advantage in the generic ballot, and the recent shakeup paired with a precarious group of Republican candidates has them feeling good about their chances in 2018.
Ryan’s departure also sends a major blow to Republican fundraising efforts for the midterm elections. Ryan has broken nearly every fundraising record to date and regularly attends a fundraiser a night when he is in Washington. While some have called for the Speaker to step down immediately and initiate a smooth transition for his replacement, Ryan has argued that it would be detrimental to put the GOP’s biggest fundraiser on the sidelines in 2018. With Ryan’s announcement, the battleground for the 2018 midterms shows no sign of quieting down anytime soon.
Whether or not Ryan steps down early or Republicans win the majority in November, they will be faced with the daunting task of appointing a new party leader. While many candidates will likely compete for the position, the new Speaker must have what it takes to balance a continually divided party and work closely with a constantly unpredictable president. While Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) have emerged as the frontrunners for the position, Scalise appears to be the man best suited for the job.
Scalise and Ryan developed a strong relationship over their years working together in the House. When Scalise returned to Congress after recovering from a gunshot wound suffered during the shooting at a Congressional baseball team practice last summer, Ryan tearfully welcomed his colleague back to Capitol Hill. The majority whip also received a standing ovation upon his return to the chamber, revealing the level of respect he has earned from his Congressional colleagues. In fact, the way he has dealt with his recent gun injury has set an example to the country that we can be hopeful and find ways to make the most out of difficult situations we face.
Scalise has been heralded as a hero since his return, but his ability to stare down a bullet is not the only thing that elevates him above the rest for the position of Speaker. As Whip, Scalise has earned the respect of both Republican caucuses, evidenced by his ability to mobilize voters to pass the recent tax bill. A strong conservative, Scalise would work to continue to push much needed conservative legislation through Congress and could easily step into Ryan’s legacy as the preeminent Republican fundraiser.
However, Scalise has maintained that he won’t run against his “good friend” Kevin McCarthy should the Majority Leader choose to run for the position. While equally conservative as Scalise, McCarthy does not seem to have earned the same respect across the Republican ranks. His cozy relationship with the president — perhaps best reflected by his grandiose gift of Starbursts last October — has been questioned, as many inside and outside of Congress believe that the Speaker should serve as some sort of balance to Trump’s unpredictable legislative behavior.
“Long ago, I decided that I was going to make the absolute most of my time in Congress, knowing that my opportunity to improve the course of our country is fleeting. But I also know there are other things in life that are fleeting as well, like the time that your kids are at home,” Ryan said in a statement Wednesday. The outgoing Speaker’s words reflect the strenuous reality of such a position. With almost no time to spend with family, Ryan stated he feared becoming a “weekend dad or husband.”
It takes a unique character to assume the position second in line to the presidency, and Republicans’ time is fleeting to find party unity leading into midterms. While many members of the GOP are sure to compete for the role, Steve Scalise may be the best man for the job. A Congressional hero and strong conservative is just what Republicans need to lead the party into the future.
Special thanks to Daniel Bruce, a member of my firm, for his help in writing, editing, and researching this article. Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student at Auburn University and plans to attend law school in 2019.