Paul Ryan has had a charmed political career. Congressman at 29, then chairman of two powerful committees, vice-presidential nominee and speaker of the House by 45.
Newsflash to Janesville: That streak could be coming to an end.
With GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump cratering in the polls and the House Republican majority at serious risk, Ryan’s post-election career could take a number of different turns after Nov. 8 — none of them especially attractive. And as Ryan goes, so will Washington governance over the next few years.
Here’s a look at the three strongest possibilities for his immediate future:
Ryan retains slim House majority
The most likely scenario is that the House GOP loses from 10 to 20 seats on Election Day but maintains a slimmed down majority.
That would make Ryan’s job — hardly a walk in the park now — a whole lot trickier.
If Trump loses to Clinton in a landslide, a sizable number of Republicans could go down with him. That would leave Ryan scrambling to round up the votes to keep his gavel. He needs 218 Republicans to vote for him on the floor to become speaker in the next Congress. And while goodwill helped him clear that bar last year, the honeymoon is over.
Conservatives give kudos to Ryan for opening the lines of communication in the House, and other Republicans in tough races lavish him with praise for raising record amounts of cash to help protect their seats and raise their profiles.
But Ryan also angered a handful of lawmakers by distancing himself from Trump earlier this week, and some of the conservatives don’t like how he’s running the House. With a smaller majority, Ryan will have little margin for error in a floor vote over his nomination for speaker.
That’s not much of a buffer: Nine Republicans voted against him last year when he took over from John Boehner. And while some members of the House Freedom Caucus are retiring, other members who backed him last time have declined to say whether they would do so again. The hard-line group of several dozen Republican lawmakers is already discussing demanding rule changes in exchange for voting for Ryan. Ryan’s staff has said he won’t be held hostage.
Ryan has one overwhelming plus going for him, however: There’s no apparent candidate who could garner the support to win the speakership. Ryan, many insiders say, is the only person who has the stature to lead such a divided conference, and that alone can guarantee him support.
If he makes it to 218, the speakership election would be just the start of Ryan’s problems. Being in charge of a smaller majority would force Ryan to completely own any deals he cuts with a Clinton White House. That’s certain to create friction in his ranks — and could complicate his political future.
The rabble-rousing Freedom Caucus will make up a larger percentage of a diminished conference, which could push the House GOP to the right as the rest of Washington lurches to the left.
Ryan would have a weak hand in negotiations with Democrats, too. It’s already become Washington conventional wisdom that House Republicans don’t fall in line behind their leader — a dynamic which could give his negotiating partners a leg up.
“You’re going to get a very unpopular president … and you’re going to have a smaller yet more conservative House majority,” said a former House leadership staffer. “And the margin for error for Republican leaders is going to be so, so thin. … It will be difficult for them to do the basics of governing, from funding the government to reauthorizing noncontroversial programs.”
Ryan leaves Congress
There’s a chance — an outside chance, most of his allies say — that Ryan could call it quits.
One theory is that Ryan will step aside if Republicans balk at returning him to the speaker’s chair, or make him jump over impossibly high hurdles to get there. This was never Ryan’s dream job, and he’s unlikely to allow conservatives to twist his arm.
“Paul will never be taken hostage by those guys,” said a top GOP lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He will either be able to govern or he will give up the job.”
The Wisconsin Republican’s allies point to Ryan’s demand for GOP solidarity when he took over in November 2015 in the midst of the crisis sparked by Boehner’s exit. Even then, nine Republicans voted against him.
Consider this: None of the previous six speakers left of their own volition. Boehner, Newt Gingrich, Jim Wright, Tom Foley and Dennis Hastert were more or less forced out or lost their majority. Nancy Pelosi lost her gavel after an electoral bloodbath and stayed on as minority leader.
Retirement could actually help Ryan if he wants to run for president. He’d be free of the shackles of the Freedom Caucus, the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. He could continue to speak out on his pet issues and causes, on his own timetable: Being speaker forces Ryan into many battles he doesn’t want, often in reaction to events.
On the other hand, he’d lose an enormous national platform and have to fight every day for media attention that he’s guaranteed as speaker of the House.
Still, Ryan could use the time away from Congress to fill holes in his presidential résumé, especially on foreign policy. Overseas trips and meetings with foreign leaders could give him exposure. He could write a book — paging Bob Barnett! — laying out his vision for U.S. foreign policy. The ultimate policy wonk could lay out “big ideas” for remaking government, based in part on positions he’s already espoused.
Ryan, who’s developed a national fundraising network, could continue to raise money even if he’s out of office and keep sending cash to down-ballot Republicans.
Ryan isn’t hard up for cash: He and his wife have a minimum net worth of nearly $3 million, according to his most recent financial disclosure report. If Ryan wanted to get into the private sector, the offers …read more
Read more here: Trump collapse clouds Paul Ryan’s future