Speaker Paul Ryan’s retirement is sending shock waves through the political establishment. Whatever his reasons for leaving Congress, one thing is clear: His announcement is bad news for Republicans across the country, including embattled incumbents in Southern California.
“The announcement comes as Republicans face already serious prospects of losing their majority in the House in this fall’s midterm elections,” notes the L.A. Times. “Ryan has been a key fundraiser for Republican candidates, and his decision to call it quits is almost certain to be a demoralizing blow to the party’s candidates and donors.”
Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), who regularly tops the list of most vulnerable incumbents in California, is struggling in a district that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 after opting to embrace the far-right extremism of Ryan’s positions. Knight’s unrelenting efforts to repeal health care and his support of the Ryan tax bill are at odds with his constituents. And his unconditional support for the NRA, which has earned him their endorsement and an A rating, is out of touch with both students and voters in his district. All in all, Knight has voted in lockstep with Ryan 99 percent of the time.
“Partisan Representatives like Steve Knight no longer have Ryan to hide behind,” says Jess Phoenix, one of several Democrats fighting for the chance to unseat Knight. Instead, Knight will be forced to own up to his close ties with Trump. Phoenix continued, “When they march in lockstep with Trump, they are sending a clear message that they are no longer serving the people, but rather one man who is intent on burning our whole system to the ground.”
In Orange County, Republican Congresswoman Mimi Walters faces similar hurdles. Polls regularly show her out of touch with her constituents on issues such as the tax bill, the environment, and guns. Despite bragging about her NRA endorsement in 2016, Waters refused to answer a constituent’s question about the NRA recently, fleeing instead.
Ryan’s loss will be especially difficult for Walters, as she prefers his company to listening to residents she represents. Walters has gone more than 540 days without holding an in-person town hall in her district. Rather than hold one over the most recent congressional recess, she opted to attend a Ryan-led Republican retreat in Texas, where she could meet with donors and rub elbows with high-priced political consultants.
When news of Ryan’s retirement broke, Dave Min, one of the Democrats seeking to oust Walters, quipped on Twitter, “Throughout her 3 years in Congress, @RepMimiWalters has consistently followed the lead of @SpeakerRyan, even when this (frequently) was at odds with the priorities of her constituents here in #CA45.” He then asked, “Is it safe to presume that Rep. Walters will announce her retirement soon?”
Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher is also facing a tough re-election campaign. Not only are Democrats seeking to replace him, but other Republicans are running against him. Like Walters, Rohrabacher is on the wrong side of issues like gun control and oil drilling off the California coast.
His unseemly ties to Russia often land him in the news. Or, if not Russia, his outspoken anti-immigrant views make headlines. Recent polls show Rohrabacher underwater, with a majority of voters in his district not inclined to re-elect him in November.
Southern California has already seen a couple of Republican congressmen join more than two dozen others around the country in heading for the exits rather than face voters. Orange County Congressmen Darrell Issa and Ed Royce announced in January that they would not seek re-election. While they chose flight over fight, other embattled Republicans are trying to hang on to their seats in a Democratic headwind so strong it pushed out the man who is third in line for the presidency.
“Speaker Ryan is well-aware, and has been informed by his top political advisers, that this is going to be seen by some folks as a white flag of surrender,” Politico’s Tim Alberta explained on MSNBC.
Republicans realize “the House majority is already in jeopardy, and that by stepping aside, the speaker is essentially conceding the fact that Democrats will take over the House in November,” Alberta continued.
Such a concession can only be seen a deeply demoralizing to Republicans in California, who know that if Democrats do re-gain the House, Southern California will play a pivotal role.