Paul Ryan isn’t ducking out of a November election because he’d lose his House seat. Paul Ryan is retiring because he can see what is becoming increasingly obvious: In November, congressional Republicans are, for all intents and purposes, screwed.
And if Ryan stuck around, he’d return to a House very likely overrun by Democrats and end up handing over his speaker’s gavel.
The polling says Democrats are in good position for November.
But nationwide, things look much different. Democrats are leading the generic ballot for Congress by an average of 7.3 points. For comparison’s sake, in 2006, Democrats were leading the generic poll for Congress in April by an average of 7 points. That fall, Democrats won back control of the House and the Senate in their largest seat gain in the House since 1974. In fact, the 2006 election was so one-sided that Democrats did not lose a single incumbent or open seat.
For Republicans, this isn’t a signal of a blue wave. It’s the ominous rumblings of a blue tsunami.
State-level Republicans face the brunt of voter anger
Republicans at the state level have been extremely successful over the past decade. In November of 2016, 85 percent of Americans lived in states either completely or partially controlled by the GOP. In general, that’s been because state-level Republicans have largely ignored the party’s dealings in Washington, and won by doing so.
But even before Pennsylvania Democratic candidate Conor Lamb’s stunning victory over Republican Rick Saccone in March, a longtime GOP political consultant in Pennsylvania who has worked on presidential campaigns within the state since 1988 told me back in December that conditions for Republicans at the state level under Trump are dire.
“This is beyond any question the worst political climate for Republicans since I was thrilled to be allowed to stuff envelopes 35 years ago,” said the consultant, who asked that his name not be used in order to speak freely. “As long as the flight of educated voters from the Republican Party continues unabated, no suburban territory can be taken for granted by any Republican running for state or local office.”
When I asked him today if anything had changed in his view, he responded, “Not much has changed, simply unfolded.”
Trump doesn’t have coattails
One big problem for House Republicans is Donald Trump. Trump is extremely popular with Republicans, but he doesn’t have coattails. So far in 2018, Democrats have overperformed in special elections and state elections. In 2016, even though Trump won the White House, the Republican majority in the House shrank. And Republican candidates attempting to run in his image don’t get a boost either.
Trump is, meanwhile, so unpopular with Democrats and independents that just the prospect of voting against the “Trump agenda” can drive fundraising and campaigning.
Take Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, for example.
Last week, Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet beat Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock, the first liberal victory in a race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 23 years. Dallet benefited from increased voter turnout, even in the midst of a snowstorm, and even won in conservative counties that Trump won in 2016. And she did it by running not just against Screnock but against Trump too.
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial on April 4:
This confirms what we learned in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district special election in March and the Virginia governor’s race last year. President Trump’s chaotic and polarizing governance has motivated the left to turn out in big numbers while turning off some Republicans, especially in the suburbs.
Paul Ryan’s absence means that currently, the leading Republican candidate for Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, which Ryan represents, is Paul Nehlen, an avowed white supremacist who published a “Jewish media” list on Twitter and said that his removal from Breitbart News’s website “reveals to me that, in fact, Jews control the media.” Granted, Nehlen probably won’t win the nomination; for one, the Wisconsin Republican Party wants absolutely nothing to do with him.
But it says something about today’s GOP. The party holds every branch of government, including the White House, and Republicans control most of America’s statehouses and governors’ mansions.
But the only Republican with any funding to run for Paul Ryan’s seat has been kicked out of the state’s Republican Party for being a racist anti-Semite.