The news on Wednesday that House Speaker Paul Ryan won’t run for another term wasn’t shocking — it has been rumored for months. It’s also, weirdly, not shocking that Ryan is voluntarily giving up one of the most powerful jobs in politics. That kind of thing should be surprising. But he had several reasons for wanting out of the speakership in the era of President Trump and the House Freedom Caucus that make the decision seem almost expected.
1. Being the speaker of this Republican House was a tough job even pre-Trump
The conservatives in the House, particularly the Freedom Caucus, make being speaker very difficult. They oppose almost every budget and spending bill, forcing the speaker to make compromises with Democrats. Their conservatism creates tension with more moderate House Republicans, so party leaders like Ryan are constantly struggling to reconcile visions of Republican policy that may be irreconcilable.
Ohio Rep. John Boehner quit as House speaker less than three years ago. Boehner was under fire from the Freedom Caucus, which was threatening to depose him if he didn’t step down, because its members felt that he was insufficiently conservative. Freedom Caucus members were not trying to dump Ryan, but they were not particularly happy with him either, even as he made great efforts to placate them.
2. Trump has made wrangling the House even harder
Remember when Congress passed a spending bill last month? Ryan and the Trump White House worked closely together in putting that together, but then the president, at the last minute, started complaining about it and threatened to veto it. I bet Ryan remembers. There is a separate Trump factor that I will get to in a bit. But Trump’s bombastic, unpredictable political and governing style has emboldened the most conservative and anti-establishment members of the House.
The job of speaker is one of trying to instill order — to get people in line. Even pre-Trump, it was compared to “herding cats.” I think Ryan would have enjoyed being speaker more if a traditional Republican like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio were president, because either of them would have pushed the rest of the party toward embracing norms of governing. But I…