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With Paul Ryan's exit, Trump's hold on the GOP is now complete

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
President Donald Trump gestures at the podium in front of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan during his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jan. 30, 2018.Win McNamee / Pool via Reuters

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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan was Donald Trump’s opposite in many ways — in demeanor and style, on trade, entitlements and even immigration.

And that’s why Ryan’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election in November was more of a story about Trump’s now-total takeover of the Republican Party than about the midterms (though we’ll get to that down below). Perhaps the clearest sign of how Trumpism is winning inside the GOP was the photo Trump released from last night with all of the Republican leaders — including Ryan — giving Trump’s patented thumbs-up.

Another sign was the data from our March 2018 NBC/WSJ poll, with 50 percent of Republicans viewing Ryan positively and 11 percent negatively (+39), versus 78 percent positive/13 percent negative for Trump (+65).

As Ron Brownstein writes in The Atlantic, “No one in the GOP was better equipped, by position and disposition alike, to resist Trump’s racially infused, insular nationalism, or to define a more inclusive competing vision for the party. Instead, Ryan chose to tolerate both Trump’s personal excesses and his racially polarizing words and deeds as the price worth paying to advance Ryan’s own top priorities: cutting spending; regulations; and above all, taxes. The result was that Ryan, more than any other prominent Republican, personified the devil’s bargain the GOP has signed with Trump. And his departure crystallizes the difficult choices Republicans face as Trump redefines the party in his belligerent image.”

Ryan’s departure is a significant blow to the Chamber of Commerce/Wall Street Journal editorial page wing of the Republican Party, which was already bruised after the 2016 election. Maybe their next leader will be Mitt Romney if he wins (as expected) his Senate contest. Or maybe it will be another Republican down the road.

But it won’t be Paul Ryan.

House Republicans have a harder hill to climb for the midterms

Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election doesn’t fundamentally alter the political landscape – Republicans were the underdogs to keep control of the House of Representatives before Ryan’s announcement, and they’re still the underdogs afterward.

But what it does do is now make the GOP’s predicament slightly worse:

  • Retirements: 25 House Republicans now have announced they won’t seek re-election in the fall, and another 13 left their seats to run for a different office. That’s the highest GOP number here in modern history, according to Vital Statistics on Congress. By comparison, there are a total of 17 Dem retirements/seeking higher office.
  • Competitive seats: The Cook Political Report now identifies 53 House GOP seats as competitive or a likely Dem takeover, compared with 14 seats for Dems. The magic number for Democrats is 23, so they need to win less than half of those GOP seats to win control of Congress.
  • Fundraising: While NRCC Chair Steve Stivers told one of us that the Kevin McCarthy-vs.-Steve Scalise race for GOP leader can help pick up the slack, Ryan was the best fundraiser for the House GOP. And now Senate Republicans are signaling that THEY should be the ones who get the GOP money. “It seems clear now that the fight is to hold the Senate,” Billy Piper, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to Senator Mitch McConnell, tells the New York Times.
  • Morale: "Ryan's retirement is a sign that the bottom really has fallen out for Republicans," said former Florida Republican congressman David Jolly, per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald. "A lot of Hill Republicans are just miserable right now. That's the constant theme I hear from former colleagues.”

Make no mistake: Republicans can still hold on to the House come November — they will have plenty of money, much of the terrain is on GOP turf and 2016 is a reminder that ANYTHING can happen in politics. But they are in a slightly tougher place today than they were on Monday.

Here are the states whose filing deadlines still haven’t expired

And in case you were looking for additional retirements — GOP or Dem — here’s a list of the states whose filing deadlines haven’t yet expired.

  • April 12: New York
  • April 13: Oklahoma
  • April 24: Michigan
  • May 4: Florida
  • May 18: Washington
  • May 30: Arizona
  • May 31: Vermont
  • June 1: Alaska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Wyoming
  • June 5: Hawaii, Minnesota, Massachusetts
  • June 12: Connecticut
  • June 15: New Hampshire
  • June 27: Rhode Island
  • July 10: Delaware
  • July 20: Louisiana

On “MTP Daily” yesterday, one of us asked NRCC Chair Steve Stivers, R-Ohio if the GOP could keep future retirements below 10, and he replied. “Oh, I think for sure.”

After explosive report, Missouri Republicans call on Greitens to resign or face discipline, including impeachment

The bipartisan investigative committee looking at the allegations against Republican Gov. Eric Greitens released its findings Wednesday, and they’re explosive — with top Republicans calling on the governor to resign or face disciplinary proceedings.

The Kansas City Star: The woman told lawmakers that in March 2015, as she tried to leave the basement of his St. Louis home, Greitens grabbed her in a ‘bear hug’ and laid her on the floor. Then he started fondling her, pulled out his penis and coerced her into oral sex while she wept ‘uncontrollably.’ The woman told the committee that Greitens had led her down to the basement, taped her hands to pull-up rings, blindfolded her, spit water into her mouth, ripped open her shirt, pulled down her pants and took a photo without her consent. He threatened to make the photos public if she ever told anyone about their encounter, and called her ‘a little whore,’ the woman told lawmakers.”

More from the paper: “The woman and Greitens had several sexual encounters over the next few months in 2015, she testified. Some were consensual. Others were not. On at least three occasions he hit her.”

State Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill, called on Greitens to resign. And the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate said the findings were significant enough “to warrant a special session to consider disciplinary actions, including impeachment,” the Star adds.

Greitens calls the report a “political witch hunt”

“Minutes before the report was issued, Greitens denounced the investigation as a ‘political witch hunt,’ using the term five times in about eight minutes. He referred to ‘lies and falsehoods,’ though he didn’t specify which parts of the report he claims are false,” per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “In a statement issued later Wednesday by the lobbying firm Greitens has hired to assist his defense, he again said the relationship was consensual.”

If Greitens continues to dig in, that’s a boost to Democrats and McCaskill…

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: One of us notes how Paul Ryan’s congressional district isn’t a slam dunk for the GOP to hold, with Barack Obama winning it in 2008 and narrowly losing it in 2012… NBC’s Andrew Rafferty writes up Rep. Dennis Ross’, R-Fla., decision not to run for re-election… And a poll taken BEFORE yesterday’s revelations found 48 percent of Missouri voters saying embattled Gov. Greitens should resign.

Meet the Press presents “The Lid”

And be sure to check out our afternoon/evening flash news briefing – The Lid. Whether it’s news about politics, election data, our industry-leading polls, Chuck Todd and the NBC News Political Unit run down the most important stories from Washington every weekday evening to help you make sense of it all.

Breaking News Emails

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