On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan would not seek reelection in November, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Although his retirement had been rumored for months, the news set off a tizzy of analysis and speculation.
Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes wasn’t surprised to learn Ryan was leaving.
He was surprised by Ryan’s timing.
“It clearly emboldens the Democrats, it adds to the narrative of the blue wave and it’s going to demoralize Republicans,” he said on the Sunday political talk show “UpFront with Mike Gousha.”
Two local talk shows, “UpFront” and WKOW-TV’s “Capital City Sunday,” hosted Democrats and Republicans debating what this means for the First Congressional District. While debating the true reasons for Ryan’s departure and the chances of a Democrat taking his seat, most agreed on one point: it’s demoralizing for conservatives.
“It’s a demoralizing sign, I think, for Republicans, that the captain of the ship has decided to leave in the midst of what’s probably going to be the most challenging election for Republicans since 2006 or 2008,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said on “UpFront.”
There’s no question that Democrats were quick to capitalize on the announcement, claiming that Ryan is running scared after he “saw the writing on the wall with the blue wave,” in the words of Cathy Myers on “Capital City Sunday.” Myers is a Janesville teacher running in the Democratic primary for Ryan’s seat.
Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, argued on “Capital City” that Ryan was retiring because of the “toxic” environment for Republicans created by Trump, and called Ryan’s departure “absolutely devastating to Republicans.”
“He’s going because the brand is toxic, he knows he would have had a real problem come November,” Ross said.
Sabato’s Crystal ball, University of Virginia’s website providing election analysis, changed the rating for the seat from “leans Republican” to “toss-up.” Kondik appeared on “UpFront” to explain that although the district has a history of voting Republican, Republicans haven’t fared well recently in national open-seat special elections. Although Ryan has easily and consistently won in the past, Kondik said, as an open seat, “the calculus just totally changes.” The Cook Political Report recently changed the district rating from "solid Republican" to "lean Republican.”
While Bill McCoshen, managing partner at Capitol Consultants, also on “Capital City,” acknowledged that Ryan’s departure does give Democrats a “slightly better opportunity,” it’s still a “deeply red seat,” and he expects it remain red.
Ross countered with the statement that there’s “never been any excitement” for Ryan challengers in past elections. But in the current race, Democratic candidate and ironworker Randy Bryce has gained national attention, which has led to $4.75 million in campaign funds compared to Myers’ $750,000.
McCoshen called Bryce “not the most credible candidate” and a “three-time loser,” pointing to his unsuccessful campaigns. He said a more moderate Democrat like Racine Mayor Cory Mason or State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, would have a better chance of winning.
McCoshen also predicted that other Democratic candidates would enter the race.
“Randy Bryce has been a useful tool for the far left for the last five months because they thought he would be running against the sitting Speaker of the House. That’s no longer the case,” he said.
Examining Ryan’s reasons for leaving, Sykes thinks Ryan is sincere in his statement about wanting to spend more time with his family, but the “Trump factor” is important. Ryan has been caught in the middle of an “uncontrollable caucus” and an “undisciplined president,” Sykes said.
Host Mike Gousha asked Sykes if he could see Ryan running for office again.
“I can’t … He’s a very, very young man. But I do think it’s hard to come back from the last year and a half,” Sykes said, pointing to “too many compromises.” Sykes could see him going into policy-focused work, like a think tank.
It’s “hard to say his speakership was a success,” Sykes said, pointing to Ryan’s passion about the national deficit, only to leave with “trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.”