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Where does Paul Ryan’s departure leave the GOP?

What does Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s retirement mean for the Republican Party? Judy Woodruff talks gets reaction from Chris Buskirk of American Greatness and Charlie Sykes of The Weekly Standard.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to Speaker Paul Ryan's decision to retire from Congress later this year and how it could shake up the Republican Party.

    I'm joined now by two who have their ear to the ground. That is Chris Buskirk. He's a radio host in Phoenix and editor of the conservative blog American Greatness. And Charlie Sykes, who hosted a conservative radio program in Wisconsin for 23 years and now is a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard.

    And, gentlemen, welcome to both of you. Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let me start with you, Charles Sykes, Charlie Sykes.

    What's your reaction to Paul Ryan's announcement?

  • Charlie Sykes:

    Well, I have known Paul Ryan for 20 years, which means I'm old enough to remember when he was the future of the Republican Party. So it's kind of a bittersweet moment.

    But he had the worst job in American politics. He has an uncontrollable caucus and a completely undisciplined president. And I think he tried to make the very, very best of it. But, ultimately, the reality is, is that the American Republican Party right now is Donald Trump's party, not Paul Ryan's party.

    And the base was just not into many of the things that he wanted to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chris Buskirk, he tried to make the best of it. How do you see this announcement?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Well, I don't know. I don't drink, but if I did, I would have had champagne for breakfast this morning. I think it's a good day for the party.

    I think, if anything — you know, it's a bit of both, I think, heading into the midterms, but, if anything, I think it's slightly positive. I mean, this — what we have seen with Paul Ryan is somebody who just really wasn't up to the job. He was sort of the boy wonder who always was full of promise, but never really delivered.

    He was out of step with the party. He was out of step with the president, and just wasn't very good at being speaker. He was never able to pass any meaningful legislation or even act on the promises, about whether it be Obamacare, balancing the budget, returning the budget process to regular order. All of those things just went by the wayside.

    So, it's good. I think we get new blood in there, and that's cause for hope.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Charlie Sykes, how do you see Paul Ryan's legacy?

  • Charlie Sykes:

    Well, I think that our fellow guest was drinking Kool-Aid, rather than champagne, because the reality is, is that Paul Ryan actually did get some major pieces of legislation through.

    But the reality is that there were fundamental differences between — in terms of character and personality, between Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, in terms of, you know, their approach to decency, inclusiveness, language, on free trade, on entitlements, on immigration, all of those things.

    And, unfortunately — and I think it is unfortunate — that Paul Ryan, rather than standing up against the blood-and-soil nativism and nationalism of Donald Trump, that he rolled over. And, in the end, it was an impossible job.

    It's impossible working with somebody who has no fixed principles, whose knowledge and interest in policy is almost nonexistent. So, these guys were really opposites. And I guess what's really unfortunate is that people do not understand this alternative path the Republican Party could have taken at one point, but it is very much Donald Trump's party.

    And, of course, we will see what the implications of that are now in the midterm elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what about that, Chris Buskirk? I mean, whichever way you see what happened with Paul Ryan, where does this leave the Republican Party?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Well, I want to just — I want to address one thing Charlie said. I mean, there is not an ounce of blood-and-soil nativism in Donald Trump or in the rest of the party. And that's just a scandalous and a scurrilous accusation, which we can't let stand.

    In terms of where this leaves the party, though, I think what we're doing here is, we're cutting off a — we're cutting off a group of leaders now, whether it be Paul Ryan, or we look back at Denny Hastert, John Boehner, these are leaders who just never delivered on the promises that they made to their voters.

    And it's time for — it's time to turn the page. Donald Trump has been both a symptom of the political times that we live in, but also a catalyst for the American right to undergo an intellectual reformation that I think can lead to a political restoration. I think this is part of that restoration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Charlie Sykes, I gather you see it differently.

  • Charlie Sykes:

    Well, I see it very, very differently.

    And I don't think that Donald Trump is leading an intellectual restoration. Look, you know, here is a man who is a serial liar, who has ruled and governed with bullying and a vindictive approach to his critics.

    His effect on the political process and the culture, I think, is going to be long-lasting in the terms of the coarsening of all of this. And I would caution Republicans in celebrating cutting off people like Paul Ryan, because politics ought to be about addition, rather than subtraction.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, again, whichever way you see this, Chris Buskirk, what does this mean for the party in this fall's elections?

    Republicans are facing an uphill climb. Democrats seem to be energized. What do you see?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes, so two things, and it's really a little hard to see seven months in the future, as you know, but I guess here's the good and the bad.

    The good, on the one hand, is that candidates will not see themselves torn between a president who wants to go one way and a speaker of the House who wants to go another way. So there's one clear message coming out of party. I think that's positive. And the candidates can make of that what they may. All these things wind up being local in the House races.

    So that's on the positive side. On the negative side, though, Paul Ryan leaves the House conference leaderless. And going into a tough midterm, we need all the oars in the water pulling in the same direction. So, that's the tough part. That's the challenge, is that Republicans are going to have to come together, I think understand the leadership of the president, in order to win these House races.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Charlie Sykes?

  • Charlie Sykes:

    Well, this will be a referendum on Donald Trump, and I think that the prospects for the Republican Party just got a little bit darker.

    I was a little bit surprised that Paul Ryan pulled the pin this early, because it is clearly going to embolden Democrats. It's going to add to that narrative of a blue wave. And I think it's going to be demoralizing for a lot of Republicans, when they realize that their electoral fate is tied up with one of the most erratic and unpredictable political figures in American history, Donald Trump.

    But I'm figuring that Paul Ryan is feeling somewhat liberated that he's not going to have to go through this long slog of having to deal with and rationalize or, you know, answer for Donald Trump's tweets and perhaps his attack on the rule of law.

    And imagine what it would be like to be the speaker of the House of Representatives in an election year if, in fact, the president were to fire the special prosecutor or members of the Department of Justice.

    So maybe now we will see a Paul Ryan who is willing to be more independent and perhaps more critical of the president, when he's felt that he needed to bite his tongue, look the other way, and try to conciliate the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Chris Buskirk, getting back to your point about the president, you're saying that if the president becomes the coalescing force for Republicans, that's a good thing, that helps them this November?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    I think the party needs to speak with one voice.

    I believe in conviction politics. The party has a certain set of policy prescriptions that the president has enunciated, and the party needs to go forward under one banner, and then let the people, let the voters decide what they will. But let's at least have a very clear statement of what the Republican Party wants to accomplish, and then let's have an election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we have got months for it to unfold, and we're all on the edge of our seats.

    Chris Buskirk, Charlie Sykes, thank you both.

  • Chris Buskirk:


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