House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Monday he was “cautiously optimistic” that Republicans would keep the House majority after Tuesday’s midterm elections, citing a strong economy and the GOP’s record in Congress.
But Ryan, speaking in a Fox News Channel interview, also acknowledged that his party could well lose their 23-seat majority and suggested, if so, historical forces would be to blame.
“History is not our friend,” he told host Bret Baier, noting that a first-term president’s party on average loses 32 seats. “A couple of our seats are already gone because of recent redistricting that was done in, say, Pennsylvania. So we already are standing against the historical trend that cuts against us.”
Ryan spent much of the 10-minute interview talking up the strong economy, reflected most recently in a strong jobs report Friday.
“People feeling better about things,” he said. “Our candidates feel like they have a great message, and the alternative is the chaos and the dysfunction in Washington that the Democrats are basically promising if they get control of Congress, so we really feel like we’ve got a good shot at keeping our majority because our record is so good.”
Ryan pushed back on a Politico report Monday that he had pleaded with Trump over the weekend to focus on the strong economy — not on divisive issues like immigration that could turn off key voters.
“We’re always comparing notes about the campaign, about messaging,” he said, arguing that Republicans could campaign successfully on both the economy and on border security.
Trump and his campaign aides have sought to cast the migrant caravan moving slowly through Mexico toward the American border as a grave national security threat, and cut an ad accusing Democrats of coddling criminal immigrants — ads so inflammatory and ill-founded that some TV networks have refused to air them.
“I would simply ask people: Do you feel better today than you did two years ago?” Ryan asked. “If so, get out and vote tomorrow. That is what the president and I have been talking about. And we can talk about more than one issue, but we really do have a very good story to tell on the economy.”
He also downplayed a public tiff with Trump over whether the president can undo the practice of granting birthright citizenship simply by signing an executive order: Trump says he can; Ryan — and virtually every constitutional law expert — say that he cannot. Said Ryan, “I was commenting on the means, not the merits.”
Baier noted that this is the first time since 1998 that Ryan will not be appearing on a congressional ballot.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Ryan said, predicting victory for handpicked successor Bryan Steil over Democrat Randy Bryce in a closely watched race that could help decide control of the House.