The latter story has enough caveats that were Ryan to decide to stick around for a while, it wouldn’t really be wrong. The denials from Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office thus far don’t seem to really dispute its central claims.
First, quote me: “This is pure speculation. As the speaker himself said today, he’s not going anywhere any time soon.” Next, check @BrendanBuck‘s twitter feed for better re/ax.
— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) December 14, 2017
From an aide close to @PRyan-> “Speaker Ryan is fully committed to advancing a bold conservative agenda in 2018 and protecting the majority. Any gossip to the contrary is completely baseless and without merit.”
— Mike Emanuel (@MikeEmanuelFox) December 14, 2017
The first denial leans heavily on the definition of the word “soon,” while the second only specifies Ryan is committed to the agenda for 2018. Politico isn’t reporting Ryan will resign before next year’s election — that would be highly unorthodox and potentially deadly for a party that is facing an increasingly fraught midterm — but rather he might quit afterward.
Whether that happens or not, it would be completely understandable, and perhaps even predictable.
So predictable, in fact, that The Post’s Paul Kane did predict it back in 2015 when Ryan first became speaker. “I think he’ll do this for three or four years,” Kane said in October 2015, more than three years before the 2018 election. That three-plus-year tenure would also be completely in line with other recent speakerships. Looking back, six of the last seven speakers have served fewer than five years in the job (three voluntarily and three because their party lost the majority). Ryan committing to another two-year Congress would put him over that five-year mark, which is a very long time to be in that job even for a relatively youthful 47-year-old.
The below chart is courtesy of Philip Bump:
Even without that history, Ryan’s rumored exit makes plenty of sense.
He is a man who took that job, after all, even as he repeatedly insisted he didn’t want it. At the time, conservatives effectively forced then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) out, and there didn’t seem to be anybody else who could win the support of both sides of his party.
If the job was thankless for Boehner, Ryan was about to find out just how much more thankless it would become. While Boehner had to deal with an unruly caucus, Ryan has found himself having to deal with an unruly and unpredictable Republican president as well. Frequently during the campaign and since, Ryan has been asked to answer for President Trump’s conduct. While his answers are usually meant to deflect and he’s outwardly declined to comment at times on Trump’s comments and tweets, it is clear this is not fun for him. For a guy who built a reputation as a policy wonk more interested in being chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee than House speaker, he has found himself dealing with Trump’s perpetual reality-show dramas as much as policy details.
Trump’s presidency may have seemed like a golden opportunity for Ryan in one way, though. The GOP, after all, has joint control of Congress and the presidency, and for a guy who has long dreamed of entitlement reform and making conservative fiscal policy a reality, the chance is there in a way Ryan couldn’t have expected when he took the job in late 2015.
Trump has already turned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into a pariah with a newly imperiled majority, and it seems only a matter of time before the House’s failure to meet Trump’s expectations causes him to truly turn his fire on Ryan too. (Nobody around Trump is guaranteed loyalty, especially if they make him look bad.) And, not only that, but given Trump’s problems, Ryan cannot even be sure he will be able to stay speaker in 2019, given Republicans could well lose the House.
Given that, why not spend the next year going for your golden goose — entitlement reform — and not worry about having to stay in a job that you never really wanted and might not even exist next year?