US House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly media briefing on March 30, 2017 in Washington,DC.
Ryan: Health care talks in conceptual stages
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Fellow Republicans are dragging down House Speaker Paul Ryan's approval ratings

Ryan is shouldering the blame for Republican legislative failures, not Trump

Washington CNN  — 

House Speaker Paul Ryan is the least popular person to hold that job in a very long time, according to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

A majority – 54% – disapprove of how the Wisconsin Republican is leading the House. Just 29% approve. Those numbers compare poorly to other Speakers – Democratic and Republican – in April of their first year in power. (Worth noting: This is not an apples to apples comparison with Ryan; the similar time period for Ryan would be February 2016.)

In April 1995, 42% of people disapproved of the job Newt Gingrich was doing as Speaker. Just 30% disapproved of how Nancy Pelosi was doing her job in April 2007 and 34% said the same of John Boehner in April 2011.

The question I had was how did Ryan get so unpopular, so quickly? Gingrich, after all, instituted a series of major changes soon after taking over the House majority, and had already become a major national figure; he was in near-constant conflict with President Bill Clinton. Ryan, at least personality-wise, is not anything close to the brash and unapologetic Gingrich.

The answer is, in short: Lots more Republicans are unhappy about the job Ryan is doing than felt the same way about Boehner or Gingrich, or Democrats felt about Pelosi.

More than three in ten (31%) of Republicans or Republican leaners disapprove of how Ryan is doing the job as Speaker. That’s significantly higher than the number of GOPers who didn’t like the job Gingrich (23% disapproval) or Boehner (19%) were doing.

“He’s being punished by Republicans for not being able to pull together the GOP to pass the [American Health Care Act],” explained Neil Newhouse, a prominent Republican pollster. “It seems he’s shouldering the blame rather than Trump.”

A Republican House member and Ryan ally, granted anonymity to speak candidly about Ryan, echoed that sentiment. “Just like the [healthcare] bill itself, he is the victim of the Freedom Caucus, which cannot pass legislation on its own, but has the ability to stop anything,” said the GOP member. “When they do, they damage the president, the Speaker and the entire Republican Conference as well. They possess the most dangerous thing in politics – power without accountability.”

While Ryan’s own party are the main source of his current popularity problems, the broader polarization at work in the country isn’t helping much either. Three quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners disapprove of how Ryan is doing his job. Compare that to 49 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners who felt the same about Boehner.

Ryan, then, is getting it from both sides. Republicans who want a GOP-controlled Washington to accomplish a series of conservative goals are blaming him rather than Trump for the failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. And Democrats have lined up strongly against Ryan – believing him to be a vessel for Trump policies they loathe.

Ryan is also a victim of the reality of modern politics. Any – and I mean ANY – high profile politician in either party is virtually certain to be deeply unpopular with the other party. And any politician, like Ryan, whose job is predicated on compromise, will be disliked by a chunk of their own base voters, who want ideological purity at all times.

“Voters are more polarized,” said Amy Walter of the Cook Policital Report. “While Gingrich in 1995 had not yet shut down the government, he was still the most high-profile GOP boogeyman for the Democrats. His disapproval rating was 61%. Paul Ryan is at 75%.”

Ryan looks like the exception when you compare him to his recent predecessors in the job. But my guess is his numbers will become the rule for those who follow him in the speakership.