With Ryan Leaving, What’s Next for the House GOP?

The big political news of the day (so far) is that House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he wouldn’t be running for reelection in November. The folks at Axios say this about why he made the decision:

Friends say that after Ryan passed tax reform, his longtime dream, he was ready to step out of a job that has become endlessly frustrating, in part because of President Trump.

Of course, the ramifications for the upcoming midterm elections are huge. Republicans were already facing an historic number of retirements, this one will likely add to those numbers.

Just a short walk down memory lane reminds us of what Paul Ryan was doing in the run-up to the 2010 midterms.

Since then, Eric Cantor lost his seat to a raving tea partier in 2014 and now Paul Ryan has decided to step aside as well. That leaves only one remaining “young gun” in the House—Kevin McCarthy—who is likely to become the Republican leader in the House. The November elections will determine whether that means being Speaker or Minority Leader.

A review of some of the articles written at the time that “Young Guns” was published indicates that, while Ryan was the ideologue of the group, McCarthy might have more in common with how Majority Leader McConnell operates. Politico summarized the roles adopted by the three Republicans.

Although the three describe the roots of their political comradeship, they have moved to different roles among House Republicans: Cantor is the party leader, McCarthy is the strategist, and Ryan is the policy wonk.

McCarthy’s reputation as a “strategist” is due to this:

…he has assiduously courted banks and other big-business interests, receiving large amounts of PAC money from, and contributions from employees of, such titans as Goldman Sachs, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, AFLAC and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. And critically, McCarthy has helped his less able, less confident GOP peers get access to these funds too…In the 2010 election cycle, as he was making his move into more elite party circles, McCarthy raised a million dollars for candidates around the country, much of it from the insurance, securities, pharmaceutical, entertainment and healthcare industries. In a game of quid pro quo, this gives him a huge head start in the jockeying to secure seats on important committees and in the race for GOP leadership positions…

McCarthy is party-partisan, caring deeply for the institutional success of the GOP. The incoming whip, say observers, is far more interested in the game of politics than in complex theoretical policy models or one-size-fits-all ideological packages.

That is precisely the path Mitch McConnell took to his leadership position in the Senate, as was documented here at the Washington Monthly by Zachary Roth and Cliff Schecter. The use of similar strategies might explain why McCarthy will be the only “young gun” still standing.

At least heading into the job, McCarthy has one thing going for him that McConnell does not.

While the rest of the Republican establishment was in full-fledged panic that Donald Trump was marching to the nomination, Kevin McCarthy made a different calculation altogether.

The “intensity” of support for Trump and his appeal to new voters could help the GOP win, the House majority leader mused in the heat of the presidential primary in March. “Trump’s message … if you look at different pockets, he brings Democrats over,” McCarthy said at a policy forum in Sacramento, California.

Those encouraging words — and continued loyalty, as the affable 52-year-old Californian stuck by Trump when other Republicans bailed in the final weeks of the campaign — has produced one of the most unsung alliances in Washington these days.

McCarthy speaks with Trump several times a week by phone. And Trump dotes on McCarthy, too, even referring to the No. 2 House Republican as “my Kevin.”

What that tells us is that McCarthy might be even more skilled than McConnell at playing the power games in Washington. That could make him more dangerous as well.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.