There are times in your professional life when you look around, see what’s going on in your company or office, recognize that you’ve done your best, made some lasting positive change and peacefully decide it’s time to go.
Then there’s House Speaker Paul Ryan.
He’s the guy who looked around his office, saw people screaming everywhere; desks on fire; co-workers fighting to the death with Post-it notes; a sheep wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat sitting in the middle of the floor; and thought, in his best Steve Urkel voice, “Did I do that?”
And then he decided to quit.
Just so we’re clear, not one reason presented in Ryan’s “I’m not running for re-election as House speaker” speech today was true.
Paul Ryan is not stepping down as speaker to spend more time with his family. Ryan’s children are in high school, and I’m pretty sure the last thing they want to do is hang out with Dad and go over the finer points of why their other friends don’t deserve great health care.
He did not retire because he was confident that the Republican Party had a lot to run on. Ryan has overseen some of the least productive and unpopular Congresses in American history. They’ve screwed up everything from hurricane relief in Puerto Rico to infrastructure to multiple ridiculous attempts to repeal Obamacare. In fact, after one particularly shameful defeat last year, when he had to withdraw his own “Ryancare” bill, he openly admitted that Republicans didn’t know how to govern if Barack Obama wasn’t there as a bogeyman.
No, Paul Ryan is retiring because, just like the 26 Republicans before him who have announced retirements this year, he realizes the truth: Save for a few tax cuts and a few regulations, they sold their souls to President Donald Trump, and Trump devoured those souls, pooped them out, wrapped them in a special “I Love Putin” edition of the Moscow Times and set them on fire right on the front stoop of the Republican National Committee.
Now Ryan thinks he can step over that steaming hot pile and pretend that he has no idea how it got there. Whether or not he wants to take responsibility, the Republican Party is about to get posterized in almost every single election across the nation this fall—and he doesn’t want to be there to see it.
Republican special elections have been flipping like Robert Mueller had their cellphone records; most estimates are saying that state legislatures could turn blue as well. Even in his own district, Ryan faced a legitimate challenge from Democratic blue-collar candidate Randy “IronStache” Bryce—a guy who looks and sounds as if he could win a Ron Jeremy cosplay contest.
Ryan realized that even if he won his seat again in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, he’d come back to the House looking like Will Smith in that final scene on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, wondering where everybody went.
Don’t be confused by any soft-focus stories on how Washington finally got to Paul Ryan, or how the GOP is in a moment of self-reflection, or how the onetime “boy genius” of conservative D.C. is calling it quits. Paul Ryan was a creature of Washington through and through. The man never held a position that wasn’t in the Capitol, never ran a business, never served in the military, nothing. He was an intern, a staffer, then a member of Congress. The only paycheck he ever got that wasn’t directly tied to taxpayers was when he worked as a waiter at Tortilla Coast, which is literally the closest restaurant in D.C. to the Capitol.
A friend at a D.C. public relations firm once described Ryan as “the weaselly brother-in-law who is always talking about the big financial deals he’s involved in but is really just trying to move Mom and Dad into a retirement facility so he can sell their house for bitcoins.” That seems like a pretty apt description.
His disdain for the poor, and his absolutely craven political hypocrisy, leaked through every single policy he proposed and often, through his own incompetence, couldn’t pass. Remember, this is the congressman who railed against Obama’s stimulus package but was sliding in 44’s DMs asking for a little extra cash just to get his district through the weekend. Remember, this is the congressman who, when he became speaker, wanted to change Washington but has backed Trump through various sex scandals; looked the other way as Trump’s administration robbed the public blind; and had nothing but weak sauce about the election of Greg Gianforte, the new Republican member from Montana who attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.
This is the Paul Ryan who blamed Obama for his and Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential loss. Oh, and he also blamed “urban voters” who just didn’t understand his brilliant policies. Speaking of blame, it was Ryan who routinely blamed poor people for their own condition, despite routinely pushing for policies that would keep them there. If someone had found a way to grind up homeless people into gold coins, I’m pretty sure Ryan would have at least considered it, and then he would have been praised by the D.C. media-insider crowd for being so “fiscally creative.”
Paul Ryan has nothing else lined up in his life, no new clothing line sewn with the tears of poor immigrant children. He’s not running for governor as an even more conservative version of Scott Walker; he doesn’t have a hot workout mixtape he’s about to drop in his second career. He’s just going to go home and sit on a big ole pile of money, some of which he earned through questionable means. Washington, and anybody who cares about integrity and competence in Congress, should be happy to see him go. And if Republicans are picking up the message, many of them will be following him out the door in January 2019.