Paul Ryan is retiring because accountability is not the GOP’s thing

It is being reported this morning that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is not going to run for reelection. I am not surprised in the least.

The modern, allegedly mainstream GOP has never had any interest in leading or governing. Guys like Paul Ryan and the hundreds of cut-rate Reaganites he leads sought power to enrich their wealthy friends and benefactors with ruinous fiscal policy and are now getting out before being held accountable, after which they will no doubt enrich themselves with lobbying or media gigs.

The tell: they never once ran on their actual agenda. Since the day after the 2009 inauguration they ran against ridiculous caricatures of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and then ran against an even more ridiculous caricature of Hillary Clinton and whatever other liberal boogeymen they could conjure. Now that they have a record of being the party in power, they’re quitting rather than face the wrath of voters. 

Go back and study the campaigns of guys like Ryan and other GOP leaders and try to find examples of them promising to do what they actually did this past year or so. Find the speeches and ads in which they promised to slash taxes for the wealthy, deprive people of health care, threaten popular social services and eviscerate health, safety and environmental regulations while exploding the deficit and national debt in the manner in which they’ve done. Maybe you’ll find some red meat along those lines to small audiences of party loyalists and donors, but I submit that you will find no examples of guys like Paul Ryan offering details of what would become the American Health Care Act they tried to ram through last year or the tax plan they did, in fact, ram through. You will find ZERO mention of what their 2017-18 legislative agenda has actually done to the budget. Indeed, they ran hard against Democrats on exactly those grounds. 

There’s a reason for that, of course. Outside of conservative think tanks, Wall Street investment banks and a narrow class of ultra-wealthy people, there is no constituency in this country for slashing the taxes of millionaires, eviscerating the regulatory framework of our nation and taking services away from the poor and middle class. None. People don’t want it. There’s ample proof of this.

  • The proof is in the polling data;
  • The proof is in the fact that most GOP candidates hide the realities of their legislative agenda from voters, talking instead in terms of platitudes or, more often, simply lying about their true intentions;
  • The proof is in the fact that, to the extent they ever are pinned down on something, they simply lie about the results their policies will bring, such as the disproven idea that cutting taxes for corporations and for the rich will result in trickle down benefits for the poor and middle class;
  • The proof is in the 2016 presidential election results. Donald Trump ran against a bunch of Paul Ryan types in the Republican primary — guys who actually implemented such an agenda on the state level, which led to fiscal and civic ruin — and cleaned their clocks. He didn’t whup ’em because he’s charming — Trump is repugnant — he whupped ’em because his message was about rebuilding and investing in America and in aiding the middle and lower classes, not the rich. Now, as the last year has shown, Trump obviously does not believe that message himself — once in office he became beholden to the Paul Ryans and Mitch McConnells of the world — but that’s what Trump ran on and that’s what voters responded to. It’s understandable that they did. 

Americans do not want to giveaways to the wealthy, they want investments in the country and in its people. They know that government is often inefficient and wasteful, but they do not consider it their mortal enemy and do not want representatives who have no ideas apart from starving it and the people it serves. 

That’s exactly what Paul Ryan did as Speaker. And now he’s quitting before being held accountable for it. That’s no accident. It’s by design.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.