Is Paul Ryan the latest sign of crumbling Republican Party?

Is Paul Ryan the latest sign of crumbling Republican Party?
© Greg Nash

History, geography and demography are the go-to guideposts as we head towards the 2018 midterm elections. The magic number for control of the Speaker’s gavel is 218, and the House Democrats hold 193 seats. With Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce MORE set to pack his bags come January, the Democratic electoral roadmap is clear: Build out from the suburbs.

For starters, there are the 23 districts that went for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Shontel Brown gaining ground against Nina Turner in Ohio: poll Biden hits trail for McAuliffe in test of his political brand MORE but are represented by Republicans in Congress. The bulk of these seats are located in upscale suburbs, with an above average number of white voters holding a college degree or better. For the record, this demographic that has markedly soured on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE and the GOP. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, whites college graduates who are 60 and older now lean Democratic by 2 points on the generic ballot, after favoring Republicans by 10 points in the first quarter of 2016.

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The combination of a rattled president, a hyper-volatile stock market, and a Republican-led House notionally committed to cutting Medicare is a turnoff for upper class seniors and their grandchildren. To be clear, Medicare is a benefit earned after a lifetime of work. It is not welfare. Geographically, the GOP is at a disadvantage here, too. Seven of these seats are in California, and another five are scattered across Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Virginia, which are all blue states. Overall, at least 25 vulnerable Republican seats are located in those states alone.

Beyond that, those very same states were hard hit by the recent Republican-driven $10,000 cap on the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, and voters there will want revenge. In California, the average state and local taxes deduction had exceeded $18,000. Indeed, among higher-income Californians that figure jumps to more than $64,000, and in New York the number is an astronomical $84,964.

Hell hath no fury like a deep-pocketed taxpayer fleeced. Just ask Rob Astorino, the once-popular Republican Westchester County executive, who was drummed out of office in 2017 for the president’s perceived sins. Already, a whole cluster of Republican incumbents won’t seek reelection, and five members from these hyper-competitive districts have already announced their retirement. Republican stalwarts like Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaGOP leans into racial issues ahead of midterms 'I want to cry': House Republicans take emotional trip to the border Musicians, broadcasters battle in Congress over radio royalties MORE, Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceBottom line California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Top donor allegedly sold access to key politicians for millions in foreign cash: report MORE are bidding their colleagues adieu. As Congressman Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieEthics panel upholds 0 mask fines against Greene, other GOP lawmakers House Ethics panel upholds 0 mask fines against GOP lawmakers California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight MORE of Kentucky said after Speaker Ryan stepped down, “We’ve already got twice as many retirements in our party as the Democrats.”

The next set of districts to be targeted by the Democratic are those red pockets located in blue states that went for Trump, but look way too shaky for GOP comfort. On that score, think of the seats held by New Jersey’s Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE and Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoVan Drew-Kennedy race in NJ goes down to the wire Van Drew wins GOP primary in New Jersey Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew MORE, and Pennsylvania’s Charles Dent, all of whom are quitting. Frelinghuysen, the outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, saw his district go for Trump by a meager 0.9 points. In Dent’s and LoBiondo’s districts, Trump’s margins were under 8 points and 5 points, respectively.

While Clinton won’t be on the ballot in November, Trump and his antics most certainly will. As Conor Lamb’s special election victory in western Pennsylvania demonstrated, Republicans have every reason to worry, even if their state and district went for Trump, and even if the district contains a significant, but not overwhelming, rural vote. Districts that are home to both rural and suburban blocs are also on the Democratic Party’s radar, especially as a trade war with China brews.

Although rural America is now the GOP’s electoral backbone, the Lamb win indicates that nothing and no one should be taken for granted. As Ron Brownstein has observed, the Democrats are now targeting “districts that mix a substantial rural population (around 15 percent to 40 percent of the district) with larger population centers, particularly white-collar suburbs.” Rural-tinged districts in Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, California and Washington appear to be likely battlegrounds in the fall.

The fact the Democrats are highly competitive at a time when unemployment stands at 4.1 percent speaks volumes about the “in” party and the incumbent president. Although the midterms are more than six months away, the die appears to have been cast, with the remaining questions being whether Ryan’s departure is a harbinger of more Republican retirements to come, and whether or not the GOP will fall victim to a Democratic wave. Make no mistake, the two are highly related.

Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice.