#MBAAnnual22: Former House Speaker Paul Ryan on the Political Landscape

(Journalist A.B. Stoddard and former House Speaker Paul Ryan at the MBA Annual Convention & Expo Monday.)

NASHVILLE—As 54th Speaker of the House, former Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., understands the rancorous nature of politics. Not that he misses it.

“Every day, there’s a pressure cooker of problems,” Ryan said here Monday at the MBA Annual Convention & Expo. “Half of the people you work with—the other party—is trying to stop you from what you’re doing and up to a third to a half of your own party aren’t happy with what you’re trying to do.

Ryan, who served as Speaker from 2015-2019, capping a 20-year career in Congress, said regardless of the results of the 2022 elections, the next House Speaker—whether Republican or Democrat—faces unique challenges.

“The challenge for the next Speaker is to try to contain all the demand for culture-war politics and try to get policy and substance to the forefront,” Ryan said. “It will get done—but it will probably be ugly.”

Ryan acknowledged the departure of numerous moderates in both parties over the past few years makes formulating policy more difficult. “We’ve always been able to count on the moderates to focus on policy,” he said. “With more and more of them disappearing, it becomes more policy. Politics used to be measured by persuasion and policy. Today, we have a lot of entertainers in Congress who become famous fast, curate a brand, and build themselves an entertaining brand. The problem, however, is you create a culture in which compromise is not an option.”

All is not terrible, however. “The institutions do work,” Ryan noted. “Things do get done, things happen. The problem is that when things get done, it’s usually not noticed. The battles get the headlines; the work behind the scenes don’t.”

A divided government, Ryan noted, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. “A Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic executive branch means nothing good or bad will happen over the next two years from a fiscal standpoint,” he said. “What this means for inflation is that it will put additional pressure on the Federal Reserve to finish the job. The sooner that happens, the better it will be.”

Ryan said both parties will have to embrace more fiscal conservatism. “Where we have consensus between the parties is the Social Contract—services for people and a safety net. Government ought to play a role in that—perhaps the role—but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t cause a debt crisis. We can have our Social Contract, but our politics are so unserious right now, and it’s making it impossible to do that right now.”

Ryan acknowledged politics has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. “Many of us are trapped in digital cul-de-sacs,” he said. “The challenge is, can we get past that and address challenges? I think we will; our country is set up that way. We are built on an ideal of natural law and natural rights. It’s all being tested right now, but I believe at the end of the day we will overcome that.”

Ryan said he does not expect Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee for President in 2024. “We have to choose a candidate based on electability,” he said. “There are plenty of Republicans out there who are more electable than Trump. The question is, can a single candidate rise above the fray to challenge Trump, or will several candidates divide the vote and allow Trump to slide in?”