Paul Ryan, The GOP and the Midterm Elections

Although rumored for weeks, Paul Ryan announced his retirement from the House after this term.  To be sure, Ryan was a reluctant Speaker from the start.  This is the second time in three years that a sitting Speaker- allegedly one of the most powerful political positions in the country- voluntarily resigned.  Ryan became Speaker when his Republican predecessor, John Boehner, decided to call it quits rather than suffer the bombs thrown his way.

Obviously, the position of Speaker is no longer one of power that it is purported to be…at least in the hands of a Republican.  Say what you will about Nancy Pelosi, but she did keep her caucus in line while both Boehner and Ryan had to deal with various factions and neither one of them really reconciled those factions into one coherent message.

Some have mentioned that the GOP has little to run on in the 2018 midterms, and that even if they did, they are saddled with the heavy burden of a President Trump as titular head of a party they represent.  In fact, there are two things the Republicans can run on, but that would mean getting back to basics.  The first is entitlement reform which, ironically, is one thing near and dear to Paul Ryan.  The second thing is the burgeoning federal deficit and debt, but here one has a President who does not seem to mind excessive deficit spending as his infrastructure musings prove.

With repealing Obamacare a campaign message of the past- remember that Obamacare created the GOP wave in 2010,- immigration policy is likely to be a sideshow and the Supreme Court really is the province of the Senate, not the House, Republican chances of retaining the House are becoming increasingly slim by the day.  Several states have failed to reach their filing deadlines yet and there is a chance for even more retirements.  What some miss also is that many of these retirements involve incumbents holding important committee chairmanships in the House.

As one looks at the map, this writer believes that at least 19 districts currently held by Republicans will likely flip.  Eleven of these districts are open races with a retiring Republican.  The likely incumbent losers are:

  1. Steven Knight (CA-25)
  2. Carlos Curbelo (FL-26)
  3. Rod Blum (IA-1)
  4. Bruce Poliquin (ME-2)
  5. Erik Paulsen (MN-3)
  6. John Faso (NY-19)
  7. Ken Rothfus (PA-17), and;
  8. Scott Taylor (VA-2)

The problem is the in the number of battleground districts held by Republican incumbents of which there are 14.  Of these 14 districts, only two of them are open races.  That leaves 12 very vulnerable Republican incumbents and five of them are running in traditionally blue states.  Further, in those states, the man at the top- Trump- has dismal approval ratings.  In short, there are many, many viable Republicans with targets on their back this year that it seems likely that come January, 2019 we will be treated to visions of Nancy Pelosi holding the Speaker’s gavel in her hand once again.

Although it is not mentioned outright, this brings another dynamic into the picture and one the GOP should force Democratic candidates to answer: Would they, assuming Democrats gain control of the House, support a move to impeach Donald Trump?  Impeachment is an important decision and one not taken lightly, nor one usually supported by the voting public.  Our nation has an aversion to impeachment.  Our history shows that only one occasion- that of Nixon- was there ever a strong consensus for impeachment and removal from office.

By asking this question and forcing a definitive answer- based on what we know now and not what the future may hold- perhaps some vulnerable Republicans and those running in open districts can portray the Democrats as extremists.  Meanwhile, Republican candidates would be well-advised to stress the issues near and dear to their constituents which may or may not mesh with national concerns.  And they should stress entitlement reform and formulate some semblance of a policy to get control of the federal debt at the national level.

Many things can change between now and November, but the clouds on the horizon are ominous as concerns the House.  The retirement of Paul Ryan and others and the vulnerability of the GOP control of the House may be a blessing in disguise.  Remember that members are elected to two-year terms.  If kept close, they can regain the House in 2020.  And with a precarious advantage in the Senate, sacrificing the House in favor of a larger majority in the Senate where most legislation goes to die may be a blessing in disguise.

Whatever the result, whether Paul Ryan or John Boehner held the gavel, it is painfully obvious that today’s incarnation of the Republican Party is either inept or ill-equipped to take advantage of majorities in the House.  With Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate, Republican control there may be the next in jeopardy.