In the hours and days that followed the election of Barack Obama, conservative talking heads were looking desperately for the future of the GOP. They found it in Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, or so they thought. They crafted his reputation, dubbing him "the thinking man's Republican," whose policy papers on balanced budget and repeal of the New Deal were surpassed only by his sparkling blue eyes, toned arms, and widow's peak.
In the years since, rank-and-file conservatives have had to suffer over this obsession with Ryan. But he will be leaving Congress at the end of his term in January, and when he does, Republicans should finally stop pretending his political prescriptions are the future of the GOP. Instead, Paul Ryan's tenure should be summed up in history books with three words: betrayal, failure, and disaster.
The moment Republicans gained the majority in the House in 2010, Ryan jumped into action as House Budget Committee chairman, unveiling his signature budget plan entitled "A Path to Prosperity." The plan was economically unrealistic, politically unfeasible, and wildly unpopular with the American public, yet Republicans ate it up. When the plan went nowhere, and in fact cost the GOP valuable House seats in special elections, still Ryanmania continued.
Believing — falsely — that there was a large voting bloc of economic libertarians in America, Mitt Romney tapped Ryan as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election in which the Wisconsin congressman failed to swing even his home state. Still, Republicans in Congress ignored Ryan's faults and rallied around him when John Boehner resigned as speaker in 2015. Then, as speaker of the House, Ryan betrayed both his own true Republican supporters, as well as Trump followers who delivered Republicans the presidency and Congress with their votes.
The economic libertarians who supported Ryan for years believed he would make good on his promise to reform New Deal- and Great Society-era entitlements, reduce spending by $5 trillion over a decade, cut taxes, and eventually balance the budget. They were sorely disappointed. Deficit spending exploded under his leadership, and he made no real efforts to balance the budget or enact entitlement reform. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone who had bothered to pay attention to Ryan's House voting record: He voted in favor of a number of big government programs, including the auto industry bailout, No Child Left Behind, the NSA's blanket collection of phone records, and the Iraq War.
Trump supporters who voted by the millions in crucial swing states, including Ryan's own state of Wisconsin, wanted the Republican Congress to make good on Trump's campaign promises. They wanted to see better infrastructure, lower health-care prices, student loan reform, fair trade instead of free trade, merit-based immigration, and an end to the wars in the Middle East.
But Ryan delivered on none of this. Instead he passed a health-care bill that lobbyists crafted and Trump was lukewarm on. He fought to preserve a tax loophole for Wall Street that Trump "tried more than two dozen times" to get rid of. He also failed to pass any meaningful immigration reform. On the contrary, according to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Ryan refused to lobby for the Goodlatte immigration bill, which would have built a border wall, enacted E-Verify procedures, and offered DREAMERS a path to citizenship. It failed to pass the House after nearly 20 Ryan loyalists voted against it.
And throughout it all, Ryan governed like deficits didn't matter: The deficit has ballooned, and is projected to hit $1 trillion in the next year.
Ryan failed Republicans of all stripes, and his House tenure is ending on a disastrous note: Democrats saw their biggest gains in the House in a generation in the 2018 midterms. This isn't the first time running on Ryan's agenda has cost Republicans dearly: It happened in 2011 special elections after Ryan introduced his Medicare reforms, and of course, Romney lost the 2012 presidential election with Ryan as his running mate.
Good riddance, Ryan. The GOP is better off without you.