The Daily 202: Paul Ryan’s party is over

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

THE BIG IDEA: 

In an alternative universe, Paul Ryan is vice president. It’s his sixth year in the White House, and he is the presumptive Republican nominee to succeed Mitt Romney in 2020.

In another intriguing counterfactual, Eric Cantor is speaker of the House and Ryan is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Romney’s struggles to secure the GOP nomination in 2012 over a historically weak field of has-beens and Cantor’s unexpected downfall in a 2014 primary both offered early warning signs of the potent forces that would propel Donald Trump to the presidency.

Ryan, who not long ago was considered both the GOP’s ideological standard-bearer and its future, has become a stranger of sorts in his own party. He’s struggled to adjust. Now, at just 48, he’s stepping aside.

He said last night that he does not plan to ever seek public office again, though he expressed openness to becoming ambassador to Ireland in a decade or so. “That’s what speaker of the House gets you,” Ryan told Paul Kane and other reporters in his office. “That’s kind of why I knew this would be my last elected office. When I took this job, I knew that.”

Laura Ingraham celebrated Ryan’s exit on her Fox show last night, calling it proof that the “GOP establishment” is “out of steam” and finally yielding to Trump.

What’s wild about that statement is Ryan was not really seen as part of the “establishment” until somewhat recently. Romney picked him as his running mate over Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an avatar of the establishment, because he needed to shore up the conservative base and Ryan was seen as having grass-roots appeal.

Ryan was sometimes seen as a nuisance by GOP leadership during this time. Party strategists eyed his annual budget proposals as unhelpful because they called for steep cuts that would never come to pass, including changes to entitlement programs, but gave fodder for Democratic attack ads.

In 2015, when John Boehner stepped down after years of growing tension with his right flank, Ryan emerged to take the job because he was perceived as a bridge between the various factions of the party.

— Trump changed everything, and Trumpism is an unapologetic repudiation of nearly everything Ryan once stood for. Overhauling entitlements and pursuing austerity in government animated Ryan; Trump ran against any changes to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Ryan was always an outspoken free trader and believer in the power of markets; Trump is a protectionist who has pursued tariffs and started a trade war. Ryan has supported comprehensive immigration reform and making the Republican Party more inclusive. He’s an internationalist who supports global engagement. The speaker fashioned himself as a policy wonk and a nitty-gritty numbers guy. Trump is anything but.

Trump in many ways is the opposite of Jack Kemp, Ryan’s mentor and onetime boss who died of cancer in 2009. Kemp, also a former vice presidential nominee, was an early advocate of what would later be called “compassionate conservatism” and focused on helping the poor as George H.W. Bush’s housing secretary. After Bush lost, Kemp started a group called Empower America. Ryan, then 23, was hired as a researcher and speechwriter.