Maybe the writing is on the wall for House Republicans in 2018 and Ryan already knows it? There are reports circulating that once tax reform is completed (maybe?), Speaker Paul Ryan is considering retirement in 2018. It sounds like he may simply choose to not run for re-election, but will not leave the House before the 2018 midterms next year.
Politico reports on Ryan’s decision to step back from his position on Congress:
Despite several landmark legislative wins this year, and a better-than-expected relationship with President Donald Trump, Ryan has made it known to some of his closest confidants that this will be his final term as speaker. He consults a small crew of family, friends and staff for career advice, and is always cautious not to telegraph his political maneuvers. But the expectation of his impending departure has escaped the hushed confines of Ryan’s inner circle and permeated the upper-most echelons of the GOP. In recent interviews with three dozen people who know the speaker—fellow lawmakers, congressional and administration aides, conservative intellectuals and Republican lobbyists—not a single person believed Ryan will stay in Congress past 2018.
Ryan was tiring of D.C. even before reluctantly accepting the speakership. He told his predecessor, John Boehner, that it would be his last job in politics—and that it wasn’t a long-term proposition. In the months following Trump’s victory, he began contemplating the scenarios of his departure. More recently, over closely held conversations with his kitchen cabinet, Ryan’s preference has become clear: He would like to serve through Election Day 2018 and retire ahead of the next Congress. This would give Ryan a final legislative year to chase his second white whale, entitlement reform, while using his unrivaled fundraising prowess to help protect the House majority—all with the benefit of averting an ugly internecine power struggle during election season.
There are several nuggets in that story. It’s true that Ryan took the role of House Speaker in a reluctant manner to bridge the divide between the Freedom Caucus and former House Speaker John Boehner. Ryan was the “compromise” candidate that pleased enough people to move things forward. But it’s a thankless job, and Ryan will face probably a tougher re-election campaign in 2018 than he’s ever faced in prior years.
Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, which is where Ryan hails from, is not a red district. It’s considered a “purple” district that went for Barack Obama in 2008, but then narrowly went for Mitt Romney in 2012. Donald Trump did slightly better than Romney and won the district over Hillary Clinton in a 53-42 victory. In a “wave” election year, with increased Democratic voter enthusiasm, it’s safe to say that Ryan’s re-election battle might be considered a “toss-up.”
Ryan will have one of the biggest targets on his race since Democrats will see it as winnable, and Ryan will be carrying the weight of every legislative push since President Trump was elected. There is every reason for Ryan to believe that 2018 would be a very difficult election year for any Republican, but perhaps even more so for someone in his leadership role.
As the Politico story notes, Ryan has been a fiscal “wonk” pushing entitlement reform for years. Given President Trump’s statements about not wanting to touch Social Security and/or Medicare, I highly doubt that 2018 would present Ryan with a chance to dive in on those “third-rail” issues that nobody wants to touch. Furthermore, it’s an election year, and there will be very few of his colleagues that would be willing to join him.
It’s worth noting that there has been some push back on the Ryan retirement rumors, like this tweet from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:
Just checked in with my friend @PRyan. He’s not going anywhere.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) December 14, 2017
Right. He’s not “going anywhere” right now, but that’s a far cry from “Speaker Ryan is not retiring in 2018.”
There was a similar report from a Politico reporter:
Trump called Paul Ryan after Politico story broke and asked him if he was leaving. Ryan told Trump he wasn't "going anywhere," per aide.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) December 14, 2017
The “not going anywhere” response doesn’t answer much, but it probably does indicate that Ryan has no intention of leaving before his current term ends in 2018.
Considering that so much of politics is about timing, 2018 is looking more and more like the year that Ryan might decided to hang it up and avoid the embarrassment of a possible loss next year.