When Ryan (R-Wis.) became speaker, no one believed the wonkish family man could match the prodigious fundraising prowess of his predecessor, the deeply tanned golf enthusiast John Boehner. Instead, Ryan surpassed Boehner, raising nearly $90 million in political contributions in 2016 and more than $44 million in 2017 — both records for a House leader.
As the former GOP vice presidential nominee, Ryan benefitted from his personal popularity with the party rank-and-file and a national profile, as well as strong ties to the fundraising machine built by former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney during his two runs for the White House. But that fundraising machine is humming along nicely, and will continue to serve the rest of the House leadership team. As Ryan surpassed Boehner, so, no doubt, will the next GOP leader exceed him. In fact, if there is even a whiff of a contested race to succeed Ryan, I expect the competition to help the GOP team will be a big part of that fight — with positive benefits in terms of fundraising and other campaign efforts for every House GOP candidate.
That is, in large part, because the party’s base and donors continue to fear the consequences of a Democratic takeover of the House. Washington Democrats are promising to roll back the tax reform that was signed into law last year. They want to restore job-killing Obama-era regulations. They are edging closer toward supporting a European-style single-payer health-care system. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remains a uniquely polarizing figure in our country, and — in a year when anger at Washington insiders and “the swamp” continues to define our public life — no one is more closely identified with the dysfunction of the capital city.
Worse, a Democratic majority in the House would open the floodgates for investigations and inquisitions (fair or not) into the Trump administration. It is hard to see how such a majority could long resist the temptation to vote on articles of impeachment against the president.
While Ryan forged an effective working relationship with President Trump — a partnership that was crucial to enacting the first comprehensive reform of America’s tax laws in 36 years — there always seemed to be a level of discomfort between the sober family man from Janesville, Wis., and the bombastic and braggadocious commander in chief. With Ryan headed for the locker room, the GOP team will be unified in support of Trump going into the midterm elections, a fact that should help improve enthusiasm and turnout in the GOP base.
All things considered, I would prefer if Ryan continued to lead the House Republican team. He has a record of genuine accomplishments, despite presiding over an increasingly fractious GOP conference. He is an effective, admirable and appealing national figure.
But our political system does not include a national referendum on who will be speaker of the House. We will have 435 individual elections in individual congressional districts, and the GOP will field experienced, battle-tested and well-funded incumbents and exciting new candidates in as many of them as possible. In each of those districts is where the battle for the House majority will be won or lost. Ryan’s departure is a loss for the GOP, but it does not clearly augur a GOP loss in November.
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