Ryan urges Republicans to tout economic gains


Paul Ryan

In the House Republicans’ last political conference before Election Day, House Speaker Paul Ryan told members to spend the final sprint of the midterm elections tuning out the drama of Washington and preaching economic gains. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

With the Republican majority hanging in the balance, and a Democratic wave building before their eyes, Speaker Paul Ryan encouraged House Republicans Thursday to hyper-focus on selling the party’s one major bright-spot: a booming economy.

In a closed door meeting Thursday morning — House Republicans’ last political conference before Election Day — the retiring speaker told members to spend the final sprint of the midterm elections tuning out the drama of Washington and preaching economic gains.

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“The unemployment rate is under 4 percent; jobless claims are lowest in 50 years; wages are up 3 percent; GDP is growing,” Ryan told the conference, according to his prepared remarks. “Selling what we’ve done to voters over the next eight weeks is my top priority. I know everyone in this room will help amplify that message and carry us to victory,” he added later.

Ryan vowed to help them, promising that “I am going to spend the next 54 days…spend[ing] time in almost every battleground district until the last vote is counted.”

Still, that’s easier said than done when President Donald Trump’s poll numbers are tanking, dragging Republicans down with him. Republican strategists have long said that if Trump’s approval ratings stayed above 40 percent, the party had a serious shot at keeping the House.

But after a bruising August — including the conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman and his personal lawyer’s campaign law violation guilty plea — Trump’s numbers have sunk to the mid-to-upper 30s. At the same time, Democrats have grown their lead on the congressional ballot, with more than 14 percent of voters saying in a recent Quinnipiac University poll that they prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress over GOP reign.

For months now, Republican leaders have been hammering rank-and-file to weather the storm by yelling their legislative victories — tax reform, repeal of the individual mandate, rebuilding the military, opioid relief — at the top of their lungs. And on Thursday, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers reiterated those same points in a “what you should be doing” presentation at the political huddle.

Stivers ticked off “common mistakes” candidates make and warned them to be on guard. Run a hyper-local campaign, he told them. Keep raising money like you’re behind. Don’t wait to engage with constituents.

Ryan told colleagues to “be focused in on the issues that matter to voters and the success of the economy,” — and, of course, paint Democrats as too extreme. Whether that can stifle the allure of Democrats promising to be a check on Trump’s White House is another thing entirely, however.

“Democrats want to bring dysfunction to Washington, and have gone far-left with out-of-touch ideas like single payer health care and abolishing ICE,” he said.

Ryan has done just about as much as a speaker could possibly do to help his colleagues. In the 35 months he’s been speaker, he’s visited 40 states and more than 150 cities, donated about $100 million to the NRCC this cycle and raised $200 million through his term as speaker. Despite initial concerns that his demand to be home in Wisconsin with his kids on the weekends would cramp his fundraising prowess, Ryan has shattered records, surpassing even ex-Speaker John Boehner.

Earlier this week, Ryan helped raise $100,000 for vulnerable Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), who faces a formidable Democratic opponent. He also helped rally the base at campaign-style north Dallas event for House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, who’s found himself in a competitive race. The event, not surprisingly, centered on tax reform.

Next week, during the one-week recess, Ryan will head to the West Coast to help incumbents and candidates in California, Arizona and Colorado. And he plans to be on the road all of October.

But the question remains: is it enough?

History is against them — and, at times, so it seems is the White House. Midterm elections for the president’s party are typically bloodbaths, averaging a loss of about 30 seats. Add Trump’s penchant for drama and the scandal constantly surrounding the White House, and the picture looks grim.

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