On Tuesday night, Sean Hannity of Fox News was sure, absolutely sure, that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) would not return to the speaker’s chair when Donald Trump takes office in January. “Paul Ryan is not going to be the speaker of the House in January,” Hannity told viewers. “He’s not going to be speaker.”
But while Trump briefly flirted with the idea of endorsing Ryan’s carpet-bagging opponent in Wisconsin’s August primary, he ultimately endorsed Ryan and has gone on to benefit from Ryan’s generosity with campaign cash. According to a review of campaign finance reports, Paul Ryan underwrote the Republican ground game that helped Donald Trump win Wisconsin and helped Sen. Ron Johnson (R) win an upset in the state’s U.S. Senate race.
As of mid-October, Ryan for Congress, the Speaker’s personal campaign committee, had given $1 million to the Republican Party of Wisconsin to fund voter turnout efforts across the state. In August, Ryan for Congress gave Wisconsin Republicans half a million dollars. That was followed by a $250,000 contribution in September and a final $250,000 contribution in mid-October.
In contrast, Trump Victory gave only $667,932.04 to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Trump Victory is the joint fundraising account established by the RNC and the Trump campaign to accept contributions well in excess of what individual campaign committees can accept. The money is then frequently spent on voter turnout operations to boost the party’s candidates up and down the ballot.
Ryan’s contribution to his state party’s ground game is hard to overestimate. Wisconsin hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in a presidential year since 1980, and hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1984.
Other party entities left Wisconsin Republicans – notably Sen. Ron Johnson – for dead weeks before the election. The National Republican Senatorial Committee canceled television ad buys for Johnson just over a month out from Election Day. But Ryan used his Congressional campaign to write another quarter million dollar check to the Republican ground game, and then spent the final days of the race touring the state with Johnson.
Johnson noticed that his national party abandoned him, even as he refused to stop working for the win. His hard work paid off and on Wednesday morning he told a Milwaukee radio host that since the NRSC pulled its support, he felt he owed nobody in Washington anything.
Some high-profile Trump backers, chief among them Ann Coulter and Brietbart.com, believe Paul Ryan needs to go, but Ryan’s hard work in Wisconsin not only helped the state’s electoral votes go to Trump-Pence, but also helped assure at least a slim GOP Senate majority. That’s no small achievement given the fact that the Trump-Pence team had zero ground game of their own in Wisconsin and gave less money than Ryan did to the general GOP effort through the state party.
At a press availability Wednesday morning, Ryan dismissed a question about his primary challenger and Trump’s potential backing of him, and sounded optimistic about working with a new Republican administration to pass conservative reforms into law.