Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer are both exiting the House. Ryan announced today he won't seek reelection and Messer is seeking the U.S. Senate nomination.
Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer are both exiting the House. Ryan announced today he won't seek reelection and Messer is seeking the U.S. Senate nomination.

FORT WAYNE - Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to not seek re-election does not signal a political tsunami is about to engulf Republicans but it certainly suggests he doesn’t see things getting easier post-election. In other words, even if the Republicans continue control, the Senate is likely to be nearly 50-50 and the House Republican with few votes to spare.  

Paul lived through that once already, when he was chief of staff to then U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback for the first two terms after the Republicans won control in the 1994 elections. In 1996 our margin narrowed, and Paul saw how we could leverage the leadership every day. On the other hand, we were a comparatively disciplined conservative group who took some wins to keep moving forward.  Many of today’s dissidents are frequently more inclined to practice scorched earth policies. Currently the speaker can lose nearly 30 Republicans most days and still prevail. If that becomes seven or less, as it was in the 106th and 107th Congresses, will the current group be able to practice any internal order?  

In other words, if you are the Speaker, the only question isn’t whether a tsunami is coming or even whether the Republicans lose control. It is whether it is a position worth having even if the Republicans retain control.     

Ryan has to not only be tired of the in-fighting in the House but also the narrow, nearly unworkable Republican margin in the Senate. 

Then there is the matter of working with President Trump, who finds the concept of having three branches of government problematic. At the end of the day, presumably along with Vice President Pence and Senator McConnell, they have managed to avoid budget catastrophes with the president’s cooperation, but then President Trump turns around and disassociates himself from what he previously supported. To say that is exhausting would be an understatement of great magnitude.  

I have known Paul Ryan since we were both staffers in the Senate. We were good friends in the House. He is a thinker and a good man. He fought hard for the workers of southern Wisconsin, a manufacturing district similar to northeast Indiana, which put us at odds at times with prevailing wisdom on such issues as the GM restructuring and other auto issues. Neither of us liked TARP but we understood the risk of financial collapse. 

He is a rare mix of a leader who reads books and scholarly studies yet understands the practical politics of representing those with whom you grew up and for whom you are now their voice in Washington.

Potential successors such as Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise are talented leaders, but their skills are predominantly supplemental. They do not have the national clout or an internal reputation for intellectual leadership. Their styles are more similar to that of Senator McConnell, generally referred to as “keeping the train on the tracks” and avoiding derailment.  

The fact is that Speaker Ryan used up much of his conservative reputation doing just that, but he did it. It will be interesting to see if his successor can even keep an increasingly disconnected train on the tracks should Republicans retain the majority. 

Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.