Paul Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election and retire from Congress may be cause for celebration among Democrats and liberals. But when it comes to LGBT issues, we may all be looking back in a year wishing Ryan was still with us.
To be clear, Ryan was never an ally. He has always been a reliable vote against anything advancing our rights. He condemned marriage equality because “I believe fundamentally that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
But the culture wars never really animated Ryan. For example, he acknowledged that gay and lesbian people should be able to adopt, a position a hardliner would never take. It was dismantling the safety net and slashing taxes that made his heart race.
As an Ayn Rand acolyte, Ryan believed that government should reward those who most need our help–the rich. He famously half-joked that he had been dreaming about slashing entitlement programs “since you and I were drinking at a keg” during his frat days.
(Ryan was the beneficiary of that same safety net when he starting getting Social Security checks to help him finish school after his father died.)
Everything else was secondary to Ryan. That meant as Speaker of the House, he wasn’t about to embark on a holy crusade on social issues.
Like his predecessor John Boehner, Ryan always voted as you would expect, but he had the establishment’s attitude toward issues like gay rights: do what you need to calm the base but know deep down this isn’t going to work in the long-term.
Ryan’s replacement may be a lot less reticent, particularly if it’s Rep. Steve Scalise. Congress hasn’t made full-frontal attacks on LGBT issues key to its agenda. That could change after the fall.
The fact that the GOP is in the grip of Trumpism, with all its raging id against a changing world, actually heightens the chances that a Republican-controlled Congress could be even less restrained than it has been. In short, Ryan’s replacement could make Ryan look moderate by comparison.
Of course, that’s the complaint of a lot of far-right conservatives. Steve Bannon made destroying Paul Ryan a goal, and even with Bannon’s exile from Breitbart, Ryan continues to be characterized as a squish who is for all purposes just another liberal Democrat.
That characterization shows how far the party has shifted rightward since Ryan was hailed as the true believer who balanced the 2012 presidential ticket. It’s also the crosswinds that will meet any would-be Republican speaker deemed insufficiently conservative.
None of this might be an issue if the Democrats win the House back in November. Ryan’s retirement, along with 40 other Republican incumbents, makes that more likely as Democrats chomp at the bit to express their displeasure with Trump at the polls.
As for Ryan, he’s bound to make a mint as a consultant. He could always follow his predecessor John Boehner and sign onto the board of a cannabis company. But no matter what he does, he’ll be keeping a lot more of the money for himself, thanks to the bill that he pushed through Congress.