Paul Ryan On The Way Out?

[ Posted Tuesday, March 27th, 2018 – 16:54 UTC ]

Rumors are swirling inside the Beltway that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may not be around for very much longer. If this seems too good to be true for Democrats, well, it's because it likely is -- at least for the time being. But there's more than one way to skin this particular cat. So let's take a look at all the various ways Paul Ryan could exit both his current leadership position and his House seat, just for fun.


Steps down as speaker

This is the mildest of the possibilities. Paul Ryan could decide that while he's had enough of trying to keep his own caucus together and is therefore stepping down as speaker, he still wants to stay in Congress. This is historically rare, since it is a big step down in the power structure. Usually leaders leave Congress altogether rather than be demoted to just one vote out of 435. However, Ryan would likely be given just about any committee chair he expressed interest in by the incoming speaker, out of sheer gratitude. So he'd likely be heading one of the powerful budget committees, which is what he did before he took on the speakership.

Assessing each of these possibilities is going to be largely just on gut feeling (since it's all rumors and rampant speculation), and my gut says that if Ryan steps down, it'll be from more than just the speaker's chair. So I would be really surprised if this is the route Ryan takes.


Resigns his House seat

This would be the most drastic thing Ryan could do -- announce he is quitting Congress before the midterm elections even roll around. Not only would he give up the speakership, he would exit Congress altogether on a date a few weeks in the future. If he chose this route, he'd likely wait until it was safe to do so -- until under Wisconsin law a special election wouldn't be held, so that the November midterm would be when his seat would be filled again.

This, obviously, would be a drastic step to take. But this is what the current rumor circulating Washington seems to suggest he's about to do (Ryan's office has strongly denied this rumor, for whatever that's worth). It's the equivalent of a sports star going out on top -- a quarterback retiring just after a Super Bowl win. Ryan could claim the tax cut bill as his shining achievement, and decide to rest on his laurels and let someone else run things until November. This would avoid a lot of headaches for Ryan, including that of possibly losing control of the House in the midterm election (in which case, he will lose his speakership in much more embarrassing fashion). In some ways, this is the most honorable way for a speaker to step down, as John Boehner showed when Ryan got the office. You can choose your own timing, claim that you've accomplished everything you went into government to achieve, and exit the national political stage on your own terms. That could indeed be enticing for a speaker facing a wave election for the other party.

I kind of doubt this is going to happen, although it wouldn't surprise me all that much. Ryan doesn't seem to be in the midst of titanic battles with his fractious Tea Party faction at the moment, the way Boehner was when he left. And there are no big items on the schedule from now until November, so there likely won't be any intraparty struggles in the meantime.


Does not run for re-election

Ryan says he has always gotten together with his family "in late spring" to decide whether to run in any particular year. The Wisconsin filing deadline for his seat is the first of June (the Wisconsin primary will be on August 14th). So he's got roughly two months to announce he will not be running for re-election (but will still serve out his current term).

This would avoid a party leadership battle right before the campaign gets underway (as would happen if Ryan suddenly stepped down as speaker, or quit Congress altogether). The rumor is currently that Ryan has already lined up Steve Scalise as his replacement, but there has been no behind-the-scenes campaigning for such a choice, so the rumor's pretty thin on actual facts. But if Ryan doesn't step down until next January, then that avoids the leadership struggle until after the election -- when it may be a struggle for "minority leader" rather than "speaker."

I see this as the most likely option, if Ryan truly is sick of Washington. Quitting suddenly right before an election would be seen as a sign of weakness by many, so Ryan may decide to finish his term before stepping down, but at the same time give another Republican candidate a good shot at holding onto his district. If Ryan chooses this route, he will likely do so around or before mid-May, which would give other serious GOP candidates (who might normally never have run against Ryan, out of respect) time to file for the primary.


Loses primary election

This would be the most ignoble way for Ryan to exit. Ryan makes the decision to run, but gets beat in the Republican primary anyway. The candidate he'll likely be running against ran against Ryan previously, and got trounced. Ryan buried him in 2016, even though he's a Trump-like figure. So if the same guy challenges Ryan from the right again and actually wins, it would be a crushing blow to Ryan's political legacy.

I'd have to put this as the least likely of all of these options, personally. Unless another Republican candidate emerges who is a lot more serious threat to Ryan, I just doubt someone who lost that badly among Republicans two years ago is going to suddenly emerge with an underdog win. It just doesn't seem very statistically likely to happen. If it does, though, Ryan will leave office with a gigantic black eye.


Loses general election

This, obviously, is my favorite outcome, which is why I saved it for last. Paul Ryan runs his re-election campaign, easily wins the GOP primary, and then gets beaten in the general election and becomes the first speaker since Tom Daschle to lose his re-election bid. Daschle lost in 2004. Ten years before that, Tom Foley lost his re-election bid. Before Foley, though, you have to go back to the 1860s to find a third instance of a speaker losing in his own district. This is why, for Democrats, this would be the most delicious option possible.

This is going to be one of the closest-watched House races this November, in my opinion. Other than the uber-wonks crunching numbers in the back rooms, the media as a rule has a hard time tracking midterm elections. They mostly focus on the Senate races, since there are far fewer of them (only a third of the Senate versus all 435 representatives). So they have to pick and choose House races to cover. And it's a pretty safe bet that Ryan's race will be one of them.

Ryan's prominence as speaker will be the draw, but the better story is his likely opponent. Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce is the favorite on the Democratic side, and he's about as perfect a Midwestern candidate as can be imagined. He's personable, he speaks well to crowds, he's fired up, and he's a downright likeable guy. Oh, and he's an Army veteran, a former Union leader, and an ironworker. And, of course, he's got a jaunty mustache (hence the nickname, which he picked for himself when signing up for Twitter).

Bryce has already raised more money for his race than any other Democrat in the country, by some accounts. This isn't too surprising, seeing as how he's taking on Paul Ryan. Democrats nationwide badly desire a Ryan takedown, so it'll likely be easy for Bryce to stay competitive even with Ryan's prodigious fundraising ability.

Bryce's internal polling puts him only six points behind Ryan (46-40) , even though most of the district hasn't even heard his name yet. Any sitting politician polling at less than 50 percent heading into an election should be worried, to put those numbers into perspective. Ryan has suffered from being speaker, in that he is a lightning rod for attacks from both the left and the right. So his own popularity -- even within his own district -- is pretty low. So a Democratic upset which votes Ryan out of office isn't as much of a longshot as you may think.



In conclusion, there are multiple ways Paul Ryan could be heading for the exit. To be fair to him, there is also the clear possibility that none of these will happen and he will serve in the next Congress (whether as speaker or not). Again, this is all pure speculation and weighing the odds, nothing more.

Assuming Ryan does leave (just for the sake of argument), if I had to bet on the way he'd go I'd have to put my money on "does not run for re-election," followed closely by "loses general election." The other options all seem a little too far-fetched for me, at least given the current crop of inside-the-Beltway rumors (and lack of polling).

I could see Ryan and his family deciding it is time for him to hang up his spurs. Ryan has always said his family had to come first -- he demanded and got concessions to travel home each weekend for this purpose when he became speaker, in fact -- and his kids are now getting older. So, as astonishing as it sounds, for once I would actually believe a politician's sincerity if Ryan announced he "wanted to spend more time with his family," because in this rare instance I think it would be very close to being the absolute truth. Herding the Republican cats in the House can't be much fun, and Ryan would have one big legislative victory to pin on his wall. Ryan would thus avoid the possibility of ending his career by losing to a Democrat in his own district, and he would also avoid having to deal with the incoming House -- which may be run by Nancy Pelosi. He still might wind up bearing the blame for Republican House losses in November, but it's more likely that will be laid at the feet of Donald Trump. So I could see, in mid-May, Ryan announcing that he's sick of Washington and wants to go home and watch his kids grow up. I'd even believe him.

As stated, though, I'd much prefer to see the Iron 'Stache beat Ryan like a drum. I have personally seen Bryce speak, and was extremely impressed by him. He's the real deal. He can talk to just about anybody in his district on their level. He's a former steelworker, and he worked with all kinds of folks in the Union. He offers populism of the left in language everyone can understand. He is affable and easy-going and seems like a perfect fit for his district. And if his polling is accurate, he's got a solid chance of beating Ryan in November. So while either way would be fine with me, really, I'd much prefer if Ryan did decide to run, and got beat anyway.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “Paul Ryan On The Way Out?”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    I like Randy Bryce too and really hope he wins in November. But I'd love to see Ryan step down - there would be a lot of meaning to that - more than even him losing to Bryce, which would be blamed on the blue wave.

    But I'll take it if that's what happens!

  2. [2] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Scott Walker has been fighting like Scarface in the doorway lately on the issue of special elections. All he'd need would be Ryan stepping down soon enough to also trigger a special election.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Program Note for "katya" -

    First, my apologies for the delay in posting your comment. It can be found at:

    From now on, you should be able to post comments instantly, as long as you don't post two or more links per comment. Multilink comments automatically get held for moderation, which can take a while. For those who may have missed it, here is the text of katya's comment:

    Just a small comment, from someone who lives in sheep country: a wether is a castrated male sheep.The bell wether was the sheep who led the flock. He wore a bell so the shepherd could more easily locate him. This is the origin of the political use of the term “bellwether” to indicate an area that predicts the results in many other areas. So wether is a real word; and yes, Donald Trump still mis-used it. Otherwise, very much enjoy the blog!

    I post this here in full because I have to honestly admit, I did not know this. You learn something new every day! Never again will I hear the term "bellwether" without thinking "alpha male castrated male sheep," personally.


    And we can indeed agree on the fact that Trump misused the term...

    Again, welcome to the site and thanks for your contribution to the comments, as I for one learned something through it!



  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:

    CW- Nice rundown of the motivations for Ryan bowing out of office.

    The rumor is swirling, but what is the breeze driving it? Google can be helpful in sorting this out.

    I did a search this am using terms Paul Ryan, retire, resign. I get pertinent hits out to 10 pages and more.

    One date stands out though : Dec 14, 2017. Politico launched the following article on that date:

    There is a cascade of articles riffing off (specifically referencing) the Politico article on that date and over the next couple of days. This seems to be the node that launched most of the speculation. The news echo chamber did the rest.

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:

    The word on K Street and reported in the MSM is that Ryan, McCarthy, Scalise, and others are heard in signals intelligence recordings of a meeting on Capital Hill that took place in June 2016 wherein they are chatting it up about sophisticated Russian propaganda being used throughout Europe, Russia hacking the DNC, and "Rohrabacher and Trump" being paid by Russia. Evan McMullin (ex-CIA operative who ran for president in 2016) was in attendance and confirms that this conversation indeed took place.

    Ryan: So we should not have Ukraine fatigue, we should have Russian fatigue.

    Rodgers: Yes! The big takeaway from that trip was just how sophisticated the propaganda...

    Ryan: It's very sophisticated.

    Rodgers:...coming out of Russia and Putin.

    Ryan: Very sophisticated.


    McCarthy: The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp research that they had on Trump. McCarthy: laughs


    Ryan: The Russian’s hacked the DNC…

    McHenry: …to get oppo…

    Ryan: …on Trump and like delivered it to…to who?


    McCarthy: There’s…there’s two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump…[laughter]…swear to God.

    Ryan: This is an off the record…[laughter]…NO LEAKS…[laughter]…alright?! [Laughter]

    Ryan: This is how we know we're a real family here.

    Scalise: That's how you know that we're tight.


    Ryan: What's said in the family stays in the family.

    Sounds to me like Ryan is already spending some "quality time" with "the family." ;)

    While it would be fascinating to hear the entire recording which is rumored to contain much more damaging information, there are about 5 transcribed pages at the link.

    Now it's entirely possible they're kidding in this conversation from June 2016, but based on what we know now: Does this sound like kidding or does it sound like Republican Party leaders who already knew in June 2016 that Russia had hacked the DNC and were waging a propaganda war throughout Europe? You decide.

    Also rumored on K Street is that there is a signals intelligence recording of Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus speaking with Ambassador Kislyak at the RNC convention regarding distribution of laundered money to GOP candidates including Ryan through his Super PAC and discussion about Wikileaks and how best to use the hacked DNC emails against their opponents.

    Based on the facts we now know along with the K Street rumors and rumblings, it's not difficult to understand why rumors are also swirling that Ryan is now done with one "family" and will return home to the other. :)

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    About Trump's new nickname - is it spelled Spanky or Spank-ee? Spank-ee fits the 60 Minutes narrative better.

  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    [6]Kick: Also rumored on K Street is that there is a signals intelligence recording of Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus speaking with Ambassador Kislyak at the RNC convention regarding distribution of laundered money to GOP candidates including Ryan through his Super PAC and discussion about Wikileaks and how best to use the hacked DNC emails against their opponents.

    That sounds almost too good to be true. Talk about a smoking gun! What is a "signal intelligence recording"? And do we know who leaked the original chunk of dialogue you linked to?

  8. [8] 
    Paula wrote:

    Kick: to clarify, I've known about the "keep it in the family" conversation since it came out, but I don't know if we've ever learned who leaked it.

  9. [9] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Stig [5]: that's a clean 'out' for Ryan, one that either fits a man very attached to his Wisconsin roots, or one who likes to keep the escape hatch unlocked and open. But the assertion that he could do major surgery on entitlements this year? I don't think he's that stupid.

    On the other hand, Kick [6] reminds me that there's always more than meets the eye. No wonder Ryan helped Nunes shut down the house investigation. Maybe he realized that his own pre-election awareness of the Russian meddling puts him (and the rest of GOP house leadership) in the position of being an accessory to the crime. Don't forget that Obama went to McConnell and Ryan before the election to put together a bipartisan statement warning the Russians not to meddle, and the reply was 'fuck off', or similar sentiment.

  10. [10] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    What is a "signal intelligence recording"?

    As I understand it, that's what all of those NSA people in dark rooms with giant displays on the wall do. They intercept phone calls and computer messages and archive them for intelligence work. To believe Ed Snowdon, this can get as deep and pointlessly intrusive as listening in on the phone calls of celebrities.

    Interestingly, they just had a conversation about this on MSNBC. Apparently, Mueller has gotten a lot of this sort of material, but can't use it as direct evidence, since it can't be used in court. He rather, has to use it as 'informative' and work backward to elicit other evidence that he can present in court. He has to be, in this case, Columbo, rather than Holmes.

  11. [11] 
    Paula wrote:

    [11]Balthasar: Thanks for the info - but it raises so many questions! Was the RNC bugged by the NSA? If so, were Ryan/Priebus unaware of that fact? That seems incredibly naive on their parts. Or was someone else secretly recording these guys? And, of course, who leaked?

  12. [12] 
    Kick wrote:

    Speaking of "on the way out," Ronny Jackson is the new VA Secretary, and Shulkin is now out.

    M'kay. Ronny L. Jackson is the White House's personal physician. Remember him? That seems perfectly not fishy, doesn't it? *shakes head*

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:


    Okay, I found something UC I can link for you.

    Be right back. :)

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:


    UC = Unclassified

    Be right back. :)

  15. [15] 
    Kick wrote:


    That sounds almost too good to be true. Talk about a smoking gun! What is a "signal intelligence recording"? And do we know who leaked the original chunk of dialogue you linked to?

    The "signals intelligence" a.k.a. "SIGINT" definition is on page 292 of that document which contains "everything you [n]ever wanted to know" about CI definitions.

    Who leaked it? I won't speculate. I will say that the GOP believes Evan McMullin leaked it, and Evan McMullin denies leaking it. :)

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:


    When you're speaking to a Russian of the ambassador variety (anywhere in the world), you would be well served to remember that there is a high probability that you're being intercepted by 1 or more agencies from 1 or more countries. One would naturally assume these "intelligent" Congresspeople, Senators, and Generals would actually be cognizant of this fact, but alas apparently it just slips their tiny little minds. :)

  17. [17] 
    Paula wrote:

    Thanks Kick!

  18. [18] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    I think that Ryan wants out before Mueller’s investigation ends so that he can avoid being immediately associated with the GOP once their supporters turn on them in mass once the charges against Trump are made public. Those who support the Republicans are going to feel like the GOP deceived them, and they are going to be pissed!

    Ryan wants to be president, and being connected to Trump in any way once all of his crimes are made public is not a good idea. By getting out before Trump’s indictment, Ryan will be able to claim that he was just as surprised as the rest of Trump’s supporters were by his selling his soul to Putin.

    I think Ryan is hoping America’s short attention span will cause folks in 10 years to forget that he could have held Trump accountable — but only if he gets out now.

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