Why Exactly is Paul Ryan Retiring? | Opinion

This originally appeared on Quora. Answered by Habib Fanny.

Because of Donald Trump.

Contrary to what many people think, Paul Ryan would have easily won reelection. And, the effects of gerrymandering being what they are, Republicans have an almost election-proof majority in the House. Democratic enthusiasm has been higher, but the economy has been growing, and unless Democrats can maintain a 7–8% advantage in the polls, there is a good chance they will get more votes nationally but fail to take the House.

129_Paul Ryan Trump Tower
House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks to the media after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Manhattan's Trump Tower on December 9, 2016. Mark Kauzlarich/REUTERS

Paul Ryan doesn't have to retire.

He is retiring because his agenda is dead.

This should have been a triumphant Congress for Republicans, as consequential for them as the 111th Congress (January 2009 to January 2011) had been for Democrats under Nancy Pelosi. Instead, their list of legislative accomplishments has been slim. They weren't able to repeal Obamacare. And, though there is yet time, they have all but given up on entitlement reform.

This was supposed to be Ryan's finest hour. He had billed himself as a budget wizard who could produce budget plans that would cut taxes and magically grow the economy. Of course, the plans never made arithmetic sense, and he was forced to resort to the trick Republican budget-makers have been using since 1981: the magic asterisk, in effect a trust me, I'll figure out what exactly to cut later; just give me credit for the spending cut right now.

In any case, armed with this phony reputation as a serious budget expert, Ryan became something of a thought leader for Republicans. When Boehner resigned his speakership, it is to Ryan that the Republican caucus turned. Unfortunately for him, the president he would have to collaborate with in order to pass his agenda was Donald J. Trump, a man too undisciplined and intellectually lazy to do the hard work of passing an agenda in Congress. A president needs to be able to sell members of Congress on plans he wants passed. And to do this, he needs to understand the laws he wants passed. And to do this, he has to study, which Trump is temperamentally and intellectually incapable of doing.

Worse, Trump has been embroiled in a litany of scandals and probable criminal activity that have distracted his party's attention from the business of legislating to the business of protecting Trump. The result is that Republicans have only had one major accomplishment, the passage of the let's-cut-taxes-for-rich-people-and-by-the-way-screw-the-deficit bill.

Obamacare has suffered some sabotage, but the law mostly remains strong, because of the ingenious fail-safe mechanisms its designers included to make the law resilient to sabotage. I will have to discuss them another time.

Entitlement reform, a.k.a. let's-massively-cut-Medicare-and-Social-Security-because-screw-the-old-and-the-sick, is also not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

Paul Ryan's main duty until the end of his speakership will be to be Trump's babysitter, trying to put out the fires the president is constantly lighting. It's a thankless task. Is it any wonder that he decided that if his job is going to be to run an adult daycare center, he might as well look after his own children?

Why Exactly is Paul Ryan Retiring? | Opinion | Opinion