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Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans

Greg Nash

Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) decision to retire from Congress has set off more alarm bells for Republicans worried about whether they can hold the House in the midterm elections. 

The ripple effects of Ryan’s announcement will not be clear for months. But in the early hours after the news broke, some Republicans framed the news as both the latest sign that Republicans are headed for the minority as well as a spark that could set off more GOP retirements. 

“It’s just another illustration of the harbinger of things to come. There’s no Republican who’s optimistic about the November elections,” said Terry Sullivan, a GOP strategist who ran Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) presidential campaign. “It’s the 300th example that there is a wave coming.” 

{mosads}Ryan’s retirement had been rumored for months, but the Speaker’s Wednesday announcement caught most in Washington off guard. In a press conference explaining his decision, the House Speaker attempted to brush aside the idea that his retirement would have any impact on the GOP’s chances of retaining the House. 

Instead, Ryan framed his decision as a personal one, characterizing himself as a reluctant Speaker who just accomplished a major victory on tax reform and now wants to spend more time with his family.

“I really do not believe that whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to affect a person’s individual race for Congress,” Ryan told reporters.

“If we do our jobs, which we are, we are going to be fine as a majority,“ he said.

Rep. Steve Stivers, the Ohio Republican tasked with running the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), echoed Ryan in a statement, saying that the GOP’s “mission to hold the House” continues “unabated.”

Democrats, buoyed by special election upsets and President Trump’s low approval rating, were already feeling good about their chances of taking back the 23 seats they need to regain the House.

Now they’re framing Ryan’s retirement as more proof that the GOP is bracing for a brutal midterm cycle.

“Speaker Ryan sees what is coming in November, and is calling it quits rather than standing behind [the] House Republican agenda,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement. “Stay tuned for more retirements as Republicans increasingly realize that their midterm prospects are doomed.”

Nonpartisan analysts agree that Ryan’s retirement sends a signal that Republicans will struggle to keep the House. 

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball, wrote Wednesday that “many will view Ryan’s retirement as a concession that Republicans are resigned to losing the House in the fall.”

“The Ryan exit is another bad sign for GOP House prospects and a sign that Democrats probably have the inside track for taking control of the House, at least right now,” added Kondik, who still sees the race for the House as a toss-up between the two parties. 

The most immediate effect of Ryan’s decision could be felt on other Republicans weighing retirement.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) publicly announced his own retirement just hours after Ryan.

Ross told The Hill that he found out about Ryan’s retirement as he was meeting with top aides preparing to deliver his own retirement news to his staff. In an interview with CNN, Ross cited a frustration with the political climate as one reason he chose to step aside.

“As we continue to see the polarization in our society over politics, we fail to understand the fundamentals of the process,” he said.

Ryan’s decision could convince other Republicans to head out the door. So far, more than 40 House Republicans are not seeking reelection to the House next year — the highest figure in more than 25 years, according to Pew Research.

“If the leader of Republicans in Congress doesn’t want to be there, what is the reason they should be?” Sullivan said. “That says more about where Congress is at, and where the Republican Party is at, than anything else.”

Dave Wasserman, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, tweeted Wednesday that there 58 GOP lawmakers in the 19 states where the candidate filing deadlines are still to come. Lawmakers in those states could retire while still giving their party time to find a new option.    

Any additional retirements could expand the House battlefield even more. The retirement announcements from Ryan and Ross prompted analysts to move those races in favor of Democrats.

But former New York GOP Rep. Tom Reynolds, who once ran the NRCC, told The Hill that outside factors have less of an impact on members considering retirement.

“I look at retirement as a personal decision — looking at the individual itself, the family, and then other considerations,” he said.

Ryan’s retirement could also impact the GOP’s fundraising operations, which have boomed under his leadership.

Ryan’s fundraising committee had just announced that it raised $54 million in the past 15 months, sending $40 million of that to the NRCC. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC allied with Ryan and House leadership, has raised $41 million this cycle through that same period.

“The message to donors, activists and other Republicans is ‘I don’t have confidence in this,’ ” Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist and former aide to President George W. Bush, said on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

“Now everyone, I think, will probably focus on the Senate,” Jennings said.

Reynolds, the former NRCC chairman, said the House GOP leadership’s fundraising network is strong enough to overcome losing Ryan.

“It has to have an impact when [the Speaker] is no longer intending to seek reelection because some of that money rallies around your vision as a leader of the conference,” he said. “But money has not been the challenge of getting people reelected.”

Zack Roday, Ryan’s former political spokesman, told The Hill that Ryan’s decision to serve out his term would be an important one.

“He has incredible assets that will be so helpful to the Republican Congress, and him not running for reelection does not take those inherent advantages away,” he said.

Art Pope, a major GOP donor in North Carolina, said Republicans’ fate in the midterms has more to do with other factors, such as Trump. 

“What is more impactful on the support of donors and activists and on whether the Republicans have the majority in Congress is whether the threat of tariffs or a trade war has an impact on the economy,” Pope told The Hill.

“There are much more graver concerns than Speaker Ryan making an understandable decision at this point in his life,” Pope added.

Republicans retiring and not running for higher office

Paul Ryan (Wis.)
Bob Goodlatte (Va.)
Jeb Hensarling (Texas)
Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.)
Trey Gowdy (S.C.)
Darrell Issa (Calif.)
Joe Barton (Texas)
Lamar Smith (Texas)
Charlie Dent (Pa.)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)
David Reichert (Wash.)
Pat Tiberi (Ohio)*
Frank LoBiondo (N.J.)
Lynn Jenkins (Kan.)
Dennis Ross (Fla.)
John Duncan Jr. (Tenn.)
Sam Johnson (Texas)
Ted Poe (Texas)
Dave Trott (Mich.)
Ryan Costello (Pa.)
Trent Franks (Ariz.)*
Blake Farenthold (Texas)*
Bill Shuster (Pa.)
Gregg Harper (Miss.)
Ed Royce (Calif)
Patrick Meehan (Pa.)
Tom Rooney (Fla.) 

* Have already resigned from the House

Tags Bill Shuster Blake Farenthold Bob Goodlatte Charlie Dent Darrell Issa Dave Trott Dennis Ross Donald Trump Ed Royce Frank LoBiondo Gregg Harper House GOP Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Jeb Hensarling Joe Barton John Duncan Lamar Smith Lynn Jenkins Marco Rubio Pat Tiberi Paul Ryan retirements Rodney Frelinghuysen Ryan Costello Sam Johnson Steve Stivers Ted Poe Tom Rooney Trent Franks Trey Gowdy
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