Why Wisconsin Hates Paul Ryan

By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan may be in trouble this election cycle.

As a House Representative, Ryan is up for reelection every two years. While he has been in office since 1998 (there are no term limits on House Representatives), this may be the year that he is booted from office.

Ryan has easily won many elections for his position, winning by margins of 34.8%, 26.6%, and 11.5% in 2016, 2014, and 2012 respectively. Surely his district wouldn’t turn on him so quickly, right? Wrong.

The polls suggest that Ryan is an unpopular figure in American politics. Public Policy Polling reveals that only 37% of voters nationwide approve of the Speaker’s performance. Only 46% of voters in Ryan’s district would vote to reelect him in 2018. This is a far cry from his 29.8% margin of victory last year. What happened?

Ryan represents District 1 in Wisconsin, the southeastern part of the state. This area is considered part of the Rust Belt, a region characterized by job loss, urban decay, deindustrialization, and economic decline. The economic message of Donald Trump, which included deregulation of the market, bringing jobs to America, and economic nationalism attracted many Rust Belt voters who were hopeful for economic growth under the Republican nominee. As for the economic message of Hillary Clinton, these same voters felt that she was too corrupt and elitist to understand their needs. Therefore, states falling within the belt who were predicted to go to Clinton like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan instead went to Trump.

This effect trickled down to Senate and House elections, where voters wanted Senators and Representatives who would support their elected president.

Now, Trump supporters in the Rust Belt are divided in his productivity as President. Many of his supporters strongly believed in his big promise to “Make America Great Again.” They’re disappointed by the lack of a plan for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and no repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order (which was merely passed off to Congress). They believe illegal immigration takes jobs from citizens who need work experience and, thus, wanted Trump to curb it.

Many Trump supporters agree, however, that Paul Ryan is partly responsible for stalling Trump’s progress, and that he is an establishment candidate that must be shipped out.

The “establishment” is defined in terms of politics as politicians who are indebted to their donors, political action committees (PACs), and corporations that directly or indirectly donate to them. One of Trump’s main campaign promises was to “drain the swamp” of establishment politicians including Republicans. Many of his supporters believe that supporting DACA as a Republican means supporting big corporations over American citizens. Why?

Many corporations rely on the work of illegal immigrants because of the cheap labor they provide. Businesses are not required to pay noncitizens minimum wage, giving the immigrants a competitive advantage in the labor market and saving the business a good amount of money. There’s also more pressure to hold down a job as an illegal immigrant (most come for economic reasons), so they always want a competitive advantage in getting one. Repealing DACA could stunt economic growth by up to $280 billion according to the Cato Institute. In defense of DACA, Tim Cook sent a memo to Apple staff that the repeal of the executive order would put 250 Apple employees at risk of deportation. The same corporations that rely on this cheap labor give donations to PACs that donate to Paul Ryan. People who are part of a corporation can also donate as individuals.

The Koch Industries are a great example. Charles and David Koch are well-known for their political activity and lobbying of many government officials in pursuit of libertarian ideals. Much of their lobbying is powered by their oil company and its subsidiaries. According to its website, the corporation’s activities include fuel, farming, manufacturing, flooring, apparel, and more.

Many immigrants using work visas and amnesty programs look for low-wage jobs in manufacturing and manual labor, especially agriculture. According to Pew Research Center, in 2012, 15% of all working illegal immigrants worked in construction and extraction of natural resources, and 14% worked in production, installation, and repair. While only 4% of working illegal immigrants work in agriculture, they still accounted for 26% of the industry’s workforce in the US.  Given this information and where Koch Industries specializes, to gain as much profit as possible, they would want as much illegal immigration as possible, and do as much as they can to further this initiative. The Koch brothers have also been trying to warm up to the Trump administration, but still disagree with his stance on immigration, further supporting this theory.

For this reason, Paul Ryan’s support of DACA worries the Trump base because of his links to many corporations like the Koch Industries that want the cheap labor provided by illegal immigrants. Essentially, they think that Ryan will sell their safety in terms of jobs and well-being away.

This is true for many other Republicans, although Ryan is a generally a scapegoat because he is Speaker of the House and makes big campaign promises. He is often characterized by Republican voters as “all talk, no action.”

The problem comes when voters vote in a President who promises to crack down on illegal immigration, and only vote a representative in to support that President, not because of his/her individual policy. It’s okay to disagree with the President’s actions and recommend a different direction; however, when this is only because of GOP donors and not because of the interest of the district you represent, it’s a much larger problem. Voters see a disconnect between you and them. It becomes a battle to drown out the political elite — the establishment.

Some Trump supporters believe that Trump is drowning in the swamp. Some believe he is employing a strategy to drain it.  Either way, one thing is clear — the swamp must be drained, and voters will do anything to drain it. If this means shipping out Paul Ryan, so be it.


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