I Shed No Tears For Paul Ryan
I couldn't care less whether Paul Ryan stays in the House of Representatives. I've heard several different versions of the "but his replacement will be worse" argument, and I'm just not sure that's true. Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House is a somewhat less effective check on the president's power than would be empty chair.
More to the point, however, Paul Ryan is responsible for the current Republican Party in a way that he seems loathe to acknowledge. He laments "toxic" politics and doesn't understand what his party has become, even though barely a decade has passed since he received universally breathless press coverage for his campaign to remake the GOP in a more stridently ideological and uncompromising form.
We have no problem seeing Donald Trump as a festering outgrowth of the Tea Party wave of the Obama years. But for some reason we have a hard time seeing the Tea Party as a natural extension of Paul Ryan's vision for the party.
Paul Ryan, along with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, branded himself a Republican Young Gun in 2008 and set out to recruit dozens of candidates that shared his hard-right fiscal conservatism. What he got was a wave election that gave his party control over the House, but an increasingly large Tea Party faction that, not only bought into his economic vision, but also held aggressively retrograde social positions on issues as wide-ranging as women's health (see, more or less, the entire Freedom Caucus) and immigration (see, for example, Mick Mulvaney or Mike Pompeo).
That cultural grievance politics spilled over repeatedly into demagoguery and out and out racism (see also Steve King). Ryan's tendency to squeeze his eyes shut and keep talking about tax cuts is nothing new. It's a skill he's honed over nearly a decade of desperate attempts to ignore the Party he went out of his way to build.
During those years, the movement unseated Cantor and nearly devoured McCarthy. It's hard to imagine that Ryan sees anything other than a similar fate for himself.
But Paul Ryan made his own bed. That he refuses to lie in it doesn't change where the responsibility falls. He created a mess and now he's abandoning it for everyone else to deal with. If he had proven willing or able to handle it himself then perhaps I would lament his passing in some small way. But his legacy is written. He built a movement, refused to cull racism and cultural grievance from its ranks, turned a blind eye when the darker elements of his coalition pushed a dangerous man into the White House, hid when his supposed authority was needed most, and now finds himself without credibility or a constituency.
When we look back on Donald Trump's presidency, Paul Ryan will be smiling over his shoulder at every bill-signing, public statement, and appearance before Congress. He determined his place in history months ago.