Both Ryans Wake Up in Different Political Parties

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Two men with the last name of Ryan, both elected to the U.S. House of Representatives before they turned 30, won re-election Tuesday night by huge margins. They are among the biggest losers.

Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, finds his power as speaker of the House greatly weakened, his view of what the Republican Party should advocate through legislation swamped by waves of new Republican voters whose ballots swept Donald Trump and his mandate into the White House.

Tim Ryan, the Niles native who represents Ohio’s 13th district, finds his rise as a future star in the Democratic Party diminished by the loss of those to whom he hitched his wagon: Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Yes, the Mahoning Valley congressman will be called upon to voice the loyal opposition — in Congress and periodically on cable news shows — and his seat would seem to be secure as long as he wants to hold it. But any talk of a cabinet position, nebulous at best near the end of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, vaporized when it became apparent that Tim Kaine could not quickly deliver his home state of Virginia.

And as for Ryan someday seeking statewide office, the Ohio Democratic Party once again proved its incompetence Tuesday with the lopsided defeat of Ted Strickland, whom U.S. Sen. Rob Portman correctly characterized as a retread. Is there enough time for the state party leadership and structure to be rebuilt – enough honest assessment among those with power — so Democrats have a chance to recapture the governor’s mansion two years hence? Even if big heads roll, would Ryan dare run for governor?

Ryan’s political instincts were pitch perfect in 2002 when he was a first-term state senator running for the open seat that resulted from Jim Traficant’s expulsion from Congress. Putting in his time as a back-bencher, he followed a leader – the late Congressman Jack Murtha from Johnstown, Pa., and joined Nancy Pelosi’s faction. That landed Ryan a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee, and brought dollars to the 13th congressional district.

Through his nine terms in Congress, his policy positions have matched the sentiments and economic needs of working class people in his district and across the Rust Belt. Ryan’s sincerity and communication skills had many in Washington wondering where and how soon he would move up the ladder.

It looked like Ryan was well on his way in November 2013 when he became the first member of Congress to sign on to the “Ready for Hillary” campaign. He was convinced that Clinton’s fundraising advantage was insurmountable, her credentials and policy knowledge unsurpassed, and the demographic changes that caused the Republican National Committee to write its 2012 presidential election autopsy report had set in concrete the Democrats’ Electoral College fire wall.

Where Ryan’s instincts failed him – and the leaders of the national Democratic Party and their big donors ­also failed —  was underestimating Hillary Clinton’s poor political skills. She could not be propped up, nor saved from her self-destructive addiction to  secrecy, conflict-of-interest questions about the Clinton Foundation and buck-raking with $250,000 speeches. The entire Democratic Party establishment flunked Political Science 101. Times change with events and how the electorate processes issues evolves accordingly. Any political party that freezes presidential candidate recruitment for eight years, as the Democrats essentially did for Hillary Clinton (Bernie Sanders notwithstanding), risks being swamped by ever-changing tides.

The Republicans tried to do the same for Jeb Bush, raising $100 million-plus for him in hopes of freezing out serious opponents. That coronation didn’t work for GOP party elites either.

Instead, Donald Trump destroyed the established order and what remains of both parties lies in shambles. Paul Ryan, who refused to campaign with Trump yet endorsed him, now wields his limited power in Trump’s Grand Old Party. What that means in terms of a conservative philosophy remains to be seen.

Tim Ryan, who campaigned nationwide for Clinton and admitted his surprise by her defeat, said Wednesday he’s “proud to have campaigned by her side from day one.” Fair enough.

Now Ryan must work to bring back the Democratic Party’s working-class base with a new policy agenda. His instincts will need to be spot-on.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.