Another politician wants out of Washington amid Donald Trump’s presidency. This time, it’s not a cabinet member, but the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who will not seek reelection this November after a nearly two-and-a-half year term. Fraught with petty infighting, low approval ratings and only one piece of meaningful legislation passed, his tenure as Speaker is an utter failure, embodying the Trumpian era of incompetence, inconsistency and deceit, coupled with fiscal irresponsibility.
Assuming the position from a weary John Boehner in October 2015, Ryan sought to be the unifier of the fractured Republican majority, expecting to herald an era of fiscal responsibility and unity. With the 2016 election just around the bend, these promises would hopefully be met while a Republican was president.
Ryan feuded on-and-off with Trump during the campaign trail, resulting in Trump temporarily supporting Ryan’s opponent, Paul Nehlen. Once Trump assumed the presidency, Ryan avoided him at nearly all costs, doing little to encourage consistency and leadership in the executive branch.
However, Trump’s blunderous and bombastic nature was the least of his worries, as he now worked with a Republican-dominated government. With Congress, the Supreme Court — once Neil Gorsuch was appointed — and the executive branch all solidly red, he was ecstatic. I would imagine that someone in his shoes would’ve churned out effective legislation faster than Trump changes his political views, but Ryan failed miserably at living up to these expectations.
His first attempt at legislation was the American Health Care Act, a slipshod attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Eager to finally fulfill Mitch McConnell’s six-year promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, Ryan’s embarrassment of a bill was met with a paltry 12 percent approval rating from the general public, and animosity from more level-headed Republicans like John McCain. The AHCA currently remains in Congressional limbo in the Senate with major Democratic opposition, haunting Ryan as his first major dud.
Next, he attempted to tackle tax policy, the other major Republican campaign promise. Describing himself as a “fiscal hawk,” Ryan was sure to make tax reform his crowning achievement. Cutting taxes for the top earners and easing the corporate tax rate, the plan is cut-and-paste Reaganomics on steroids.
While many in the Republican Party can trumpet such a dramatic reform without any cognitive dissonance, Ryan cannot tout this as an accomplishment in the positive sense. This tax cut creates a gaping hole in the deficit, putting us further into debt and going against whatever modicum of consistency Ryan had when it came to the deficit. Under Obama, his common gripe was “deficits are bad,” but now, in Ryan’s eyes, deficits are perfectly fine since taxes for rich people are lowered and Republicans are in control now. His love of fiscal responsibility is thrown by the wayside in favor of giving himself and his cronies a tax break.
In passing this bill, Ryan perfectly displays his theme as Speaker: abandoning his own principles in favor of partisan hackery. The bright, starry-eyed Congressman who idolized Ayn Rand and championed fiscal responsibility will leave his office as just another partisan, more concerned with serving his donors and fellow congressmen than adhering to his own ideas and pushing solid legislation.
Rather than his anticipated tenure of progress and unity, his actual tenure has been one of hollow ideals and division, resulting in a botched healthcare bill, DACA floating in limbo and a tax cut driving us an extra $1.5 trillion in debt over the next decade.
Will this be the outright end of Ryan’s political career? It’s hard to tell, but if the trend of electing people with no backbone or ideology continues, then he may have a shot next time around.