House Speaker Paul Ryan's surprising decision not to seek re-election?
It's all political.
It's all about the Trump factor.
At least that's the general tone of the mainstream news coverage that I've seen since the Wisconsin Republican announced his plans Wednesday.
But — and this isn't the first time GetReligion has asked this question concerning Ryan — is there a chance there's a holy ghost in this story? Could Ryan's faith just possibly be a factor — perhaps a major one — in his choice? Hang on a moment, and we'll explore those questions.
First, though, the crucial background.
Here is an important part of what Ryan, 48, said concerning why he won't seek re-election:
This is my 20th year in Congress. My kids weren’t even born when I was first elected. Our oldest was 13 years old when I became speaker. Now all three of our kids are teenagers, and one thing I’ve learned about teenagers is their idea of an ideal weekend is not necessarily to spend all of their time with their parents.
What I realize is if I am here for one more term, my kids will only have ever known me as a weekend dad. I just can’t let that happen. So I will be setting new priorities in my life.
How did Ryan's desire to be more than a "weekend dad" play on major front pages today?
Well, the word "father" does not appear in the New York Times' lead story on how Ryan's decision "Upends Republican Hopes and Plans for Midterm Elections." Nor does it make the Washington Post's Page 1 piece with the online headline "Paul Ryan’s GOP swept away by a Trumpian revolution he could neither contain nor control."
USA Today? Its main Ryan story asked: "Does House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement signal a blue wave in the fall?" But unlike many of its counterparts, the national newspaper did manage to get the phrase "weekend dad" into its report:
Ryan said he will remain speaker through the remainder of the year but that it was time to go home to his family. He told reporters he did not want his three teenage children to know him as a "weekend dad."
Elsewhere, CNN at least broached the subject:
Even though the Republican conference was not always unified behind Ryan, members of both parties and both chambers praised his tenure.
"Paul Ryan is a person of true integrity who I have had the great fortune to know over the last eight years," GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said in a statement. "He has served Janesville, southeastern Wisconsin and our nation honorably. We should all be grateful for his sacrifice and understand his desire to be a full-time dad."
But back to the possible holy ghost: After Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked Ryan as his running mate in 2012, the New York Times reported on how "Faith, Family and Politics Describe Life of Paul Ryan."
From that story:
The Ryans are Catholic — Paul was an altar boy — which was “an important part of Paul’s value system,” Tobin Ryan said. “We were raised to develop our faith and beliefs independently.” Mr. Ryan, more than his wife, Janna, often takes their three children to church, Mrs. Thorpe said.
Ryan, who lost his dad when he was 16, told CBN News earlier this year he calls his kids each night he’s away to pray with them before they go to bed.
“I could not do my job as a husband, as a father, as the speaker of the House without my faith. It is indispensable. It is an integral part of my life. I start my day in prayer; I end my day in prayer,” he said.
I can't make the takeaway point here any better than my editor, Terry Mattingly, did when Ryan was grappling with accepting the speaker's role in the first place.
So let's end with tmatt's still-apropos words from 2015:
Yes, there are workaholic Catholic fathers in Washington, D.C., and everywhere else. There may even be some who claim to be pro-Catechism, doctrinally conservative Catholics.
But if the goal is to discuss the forces pulling at Ryan as he makes this decision, might it have been fair game to ask if his Catholic beliefs are part of that equation?
How could they not be?