- - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Nice guys finish last” is part of the lore of baseball, an insight by Hall of Fame player and manager Leo Durocher, but it could be the epitaph for the Washington career of Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House who is widely praised for civility and good manners. He announced Wednesday that he’s fed up and going home.

The week is still young, and the Ryan bombshell — not quite a blockbuster because it has been a hot rumor for days if not weeks — might not be the loudest of the week but it’s a marker to remember. The main event, which seems to be imminent, is the throwdown between the president and Robert Mueller, the special counsel out to take down Donald Trump.

Mr. Ryan reminded everyone Wednesday that he didn’t want the job in the first place and only took it when he reckoned that it was “time for every good man to come to the aid of the party.” For once that ancient bit of folk wisdom, familiar to everyone who ever typed the line shopping for a typewriter, was right on point.

“You all know that I did not seek this job, I took it reluctantly,” he told reporters. “But I have given this job everything that I have and I have no regrets whatsoever for having accepted this responsibility. This has been one of the two greatest honors of my life. This job provides incredible opportunities, but the truth is, it’s easy for it to take over everything in your life, and you can’t just let that happen, because there are other things that can be fitting as well, mainly your time as a husband and a dad, which is the other great honor of my life.”

Everybody who leaves Washington sounds a similar valedictory, and wives and families are accustomed to being cast as villains depriving the nation of masters of statecraft, but Mr. Ryan might even mean it. He was an odd choice as speaker, who became the leader of the Republicans in the House almost by acclamation in 2015 when John Boehner, exhausted by critiques from conservatives, similarly called it quits.

Neither Ryan friend nor foe was surprised, only by the timing on the eve of the midterm congressional elections, which are not exactly shaping up as a Republican tsunami. “Ryan is like a perennial All-Star who never quite enjoyed the ideal circumstances to shine,” observes Jim Geraghty in National Review. “He always seemed to attract a disproportionate amount of mockery and disdain for what he was actually trying to do. Those scoffing ‘good riddance’ to Ryan probably ought to look back at John Boehner and Dennis Hastert. Ryan is younger, a better communicator, more telegenic and more of a policy wonk than his predecessors and most of his potential successors.”

Wonkery is crucial to leadership, but politics has to come first, and Mr. Ryan has always seemed more comfortable as a wonk, not a brawler who relishes mixing it up with Democrats who take no prisoners. If his resignation as speaker, and as a member from Wisconsin, is not unexpected, the timing is unfortunate for the Grand Old Party. He emphasizes that he is not resigning, and wants to remain as speaker through the 115th Congress, which expires next January. This ensures that he will be a lame duck through the campaign in the summer and into early fall, just when the party will need a tiger, not a duck.

Some Republicans seem persuaded already that they’re destined for defeat, all but conceding that the Democrats hold all the good cards. This is not necessarily so, but the Ryan exit will encourage Nancy Pelosi and her newly energized party.

The Republicans must hold their losses in November to 23 seats to retain control of the House, and already 45 Republicans have announced their retirements, including Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida, who said only Wednesday that he was calling it quits. So far 20 Democrats have said they will not seek re-election. Most of these are seats in safe districts.

President Trump once called Mr. Ryan “weak” and “ineffective” for his inability to impose the discipline to make good on Republican promises to repeal Obamacare and cut Democratic budget bloat. But the president had only nice words for him Wednesday. “Speaker Paul Ryan is a truly good man,” he said, “and while he will not be seeking re-election, he will leave a legacy of achievement that nobody can question. We are with you Paul!” (One exclamation point his.)


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