On April 11, just a week after Speaker of the House Paul Ryan met with political donors in Texas to discuss campaign strategy for the upcoming midterm elections, he decided to retire. This is an ominous blow to the already deeply divided Republican Party, which is facing the real possibility of relinquishing its control over Congress.
Naturally, Ryan’s primary reason for retiring at the age of 48 is to spend time with his family. He is also in a great position to add to his net worth of $6 million, according to Bloomberg, by having the chance to join numerous corporate boards once he is done with his position in Washington on top of the pension he will receive.
However, with elections approaching and with the political climate now taking a more backstage role, the future of the incumbent party is unclear. Ryan was the source of most campaign fundraising this year and a political figure who was focused more on structure and the economy as opposed to President Donald Trump, who uses “shock politics” in order to gain international attention while alienating a majority of Americans.
The Republican Party, initially created when the United States was divided over slavery, is now at another pivotal crossroad. The party has seen a stronger shift to the right within its voter base.
Trump is simply an embodiment of this faction within the party. While Ryan was known as one of the few traditional conservatives who put emphasis on a fiscal conservative movement, his ideology clashed with the radical one that Trump started pushing.
Now, two and a half years after replacing former Speaker John Boehner, Ryan is beginning to realize that out of all the major goals he had set in the party upon being elected, the 2017 deficit-increasing tax overhaul may be his one and only crowning achievement.
The truth is that Ryan is exhausted. Fighting to keep Democrats out of Congress would be another battle on top of the ones he has already been struggling with — to not be undermined by the Trump-centric Freedom Caucus faction of the House, to put forth cuts on federal assistance programs and to scale back the Affordable Care Act.
The ensuing battle over who will fill Ryan’s vacated seat might just finally highlight what has been simmering underneath the cover of darkness for years: a silent coup within the Republicans. Whoever does succeed Ryan will either align the party around Trump’s agenda or increase the fault lines that separate Ryan’s brand of Republicans from Trump’s.
Even now, a potential Speaker of the House candidate only needs a few dozen votes against them to not win the election. The Freedom Caucus is the faction that could cause in-house turmoil, if a candidate does not gain their approval before stepping up to the job.
One thing for sure is clear — the fractured Republicans must now band together and put forth their efforts to protect their seat majority in Congress. After all, being the Speaker of the House and being the leader of a minority party in Congress are two different job descriptions.
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