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House Speaker Paul Ryan to exit stage right

House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring -- and there's no getting around the fact that the Wisconsin Republican appears to be fleeing a sinking ship.
Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

There's been an enormous number of House Republican retirement announcements in recent months, but some are more notable than others.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., won't run for re-election, two sources with knowledge of his decision confirmed to NBC News Wednesday.Axios was the first to report that Ryan, 48, would leave Congress at the end of his term.

The Wisconsin congressman's office has since confirmed the reports, making clear that Ryan will not resign early, but he will also not run for another term.

And while this is no doubt a major development -- Ryan is the first House leader from either party not to run for re-election since Bob Michel (R-Ill.) in 1994 -- it's not terribly surprising, either. The HuffPost's Matt Fuller first reported on rumors about Ryan's retirement back in December, and Politico had a related report a day later.

The Speaker and his office pushed  back against the reports, though they also left themselves some rhetorical wiggle room, suggesting to many that Ryan's exit was a near-certainty.

As for why the Speaker is stepping down, that's a surprisingly easy question to answer.

First, as Ryan no doubt realizes, the odds of Republicans maintaining their House majority next year aren't great, and it's unlikely he'd relish the opportunity to serve as House Minority Leader.

What's more, as we discussed several months ago, even if House Democrats come up short in this year's midterms, Ryan also realizes that leading House Republicans with a small majority would be even more exasperating than leading House Republicans with a sizable majority.

Second, I'm not at all sure he actually likes this job. He's reportedly told friends he "feels like he's running a daycare center," and stepping down now means he'll no longer have to worry about Donald Trump's re-election campaign in 2020. Or the whims of the House Freedom Caucus. Or Senate filibusters.

Third, this may be a rare instance in which the spend-more-time-with-the-family line has at least some merit. Ryan's father died young, and it's likely the Speaker wants to spend time with his kids as they enter their teenage years.

That said, there's no getting around the fact that Ryan appears to be fleeing a sinking ship. I'll have plenty more to say about the Speaker's record and legacy in the near future, but for now, consider the message the Wisconsin Republican is sending to the party and its supporters about the GOP's chances in the midterm elections.

On the one hand, Ryan is telling his members they'll be fine and tax breaks for the rich will save them. On the other hand, the Speaker is sharing this message while shoving his stuff in a suitcase with a plane ticket sticking out of his jacket pocket.