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Paul Ryan’s Hits, Misses and Too-Soon-To-Tells

Speaker’s retirement comes with a lot of question marks

House Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during his press conference Wednesday to announce his retirement. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during his press conference Wednesday to announce his retirement. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s decision to leave Congress next year will close a chapter to a whirlwind tenure as speaker and a record that has yet to receive a full reckoning.

The Wisconsin Republican took over the speaker’s gavel after John A. Boehner resigned in the face of increasing pressure from the more conservative wings of the House GOP caucus.

While initially not a candidate to succeed the Ohio Republican, Ryan emerged as the consensus pick for speaker after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy took himself out of the running.

As someone who focused mainly on policy, Ryan did not have a history of cajoling members or wrangling votes as other speakers who served as whips did.

While Ryan’s goal has been to advance conservative principles, Donald Trump’s candidacy and eventual victory upended much of his messaging. 

Watch: A Look Back at Paul Ryan’s Career in the House

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Here’s an early look at how Ryan’s legacy might shape up:


  • Tax overhaul: With cuts to the corporate tax rate and temporary individual tax cuts, Ryan caught his unicorn. The tax legislation passed in December also repealed the individual mandate in the 2010 health care law. Even if Democrats take the House, they will likely be unable to undo major parts of the tax legislation.
  • Fundraising: Ryan consistently raised more money than his predecessor, much of it for endangered members.
  • Special elections: Republicans won all but one GOP-held open seat in special elections since Ryan became speaker. 


  • Health care: Republicans ultimately failed to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law. While a bill passed the House, it died in the Senate.
  • Departures: The GOP will see a massive exodus of incumbents, including longtime committee leaders, after this term. More than 40 members, Ryan included, are not running for re-election.
  • Threading POTUS needle: Between Trump’s racially charged remarks, lewd comments and moving-target policy positions, Ryan never quite mastered the art of denouncing the president on the one hand and using him to political advantage on the other.
  • Spending: The passage of the fiscal 2018 omnibus package was met with conservative backlash, including from Trump.
  • Trade: As a free-market free trader, Ryan endured the president’s campaigning against and later jettisoning of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He then urged the president not to move forward on steel and aluminum import tariffs.
  • Approval: At one point last spring, Ryan polled lower than Trump.

To soon to tell

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