Paul Ryan announced Wednesday morning that that he will not run for reelection in his Wisconsin district, ending his tumultuous, historical, and brief tenure as speaker of the House.
Throughout his career in Washington, Ryan enjoyed the reputation of being a policy whiz and a fastidious student of the federal budget. Among audiences in the nation’s often innumerate capital, an appendix has a kind of talismanic power, and Ryan dazzled the media with reams of appendices and analyses showing that the federal government was spending too much and taxing too much. In his detailed blueprints of future dream budgets, he envisioned a world that would have pleased his favorite writer, Ayn Rand—a world where winners are prized, and welfare is slashed, unlocking the animal spirits of capitalism.
Above all, Ryan rose to prominence under President Barack Obama by weaponizing federal deficits, and winning plaudits from centrists for his detailed charts showing the dangers fiscal shortfalls posed to America’s future. Yet Ryan leaves office just days after a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the Republican-controlled government under Ryan’s leadership has, in a matter of months, increased deficits in the 2018 to 2022 period by more than $1.2 trillion. Where did that $1.2 trillion come from? First, it comes from the corporate tax cut that Ryan not only designed but also promoted on television and pushed through the House. Second, it comes from higher spending across the government in an omnibus bill signed by President Donald Trump in February. In short, Paul Ryan, who built his entire career on reining in the national debt, has overseen one of the largest peacetime explosions of debt in modern American history.