Conservative commentator and author Charlie Sykes called House Speaker Paul Ryan a “decent man in an indecent era,” and said he wasn’t surprised by Ryan’s decision to retire, only by the timing of it.

“I think the difficulty of carrying Donald Trump on his back and running an uncontrollable caucus had gotten to him,” Sykes said on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” produced in partnership with

“It clearly emboldens the Democrats. It adds to the narrative of the ‘blue wave,’ and it’s going to demoralize Republicans,” Sykes said.

Sykes said he believed Ryan, R-Janesville, was sincere in his statement that he wanted to be a full-time dad. But he said he also thought there was a “Trump factor” in Ryan’s decision.

“During the campaign Ryan made it very, very clear that he had differences with Trump and was willing to call him out. But then of course when Trump was elected, Paul Ryan had to make a different choice. And he made the choice to basically become the wingman, to become Donald Trump’s enabler. But it was never easy. That was obviously always a complicated relationship,” Sykes said.

“What did you want him to do, though? He was in a very difficult position. What should he have done, in your mind?” Gousha asked.

“I wanted Paul Ryan to be a face of an alternative version of conservatism. To make it very clear that yes, Trump may be the president, but there was an alternative vision,” Sykes said.

Sykes aid he thinks Ryan “could have pushed back a little bit more” with Trump.  

“I understand that was complicated. But the question is: ‘How much are you willing to look the other way? How much are you willing to rationalize in order to get some policy decision?’ So yeah, they got tax reform, they got the tax cuts. But was it worth the price that I think Republicans are going to pay for again, going along with this?” Sykes said.

Gousha asked Sykes if he could see the 48-year-old Ryan running for another political office in the future.

“I can’t, but as I’ve said before, we live politics in dog years right now. The world will look very different two years from now, four years from now, six years from now. He’s a very, very young man. But I do think it’s hard to come back from the last year and a half. I think it’s going to be very tough for him,” Sykes said.

Also on the program, a national political handicapper discussed his group’s rating of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District as a “toss-up” with Ryan out of the race.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Republicans have had trouble defending even Republican-leaning open seats this year.

That, in combination with the national environment and the president’s party historically losing seats in the midterm election, prompted the “toss-up” rating, Kondik said.  

“Even though Paul Ryan has consistently won this district very easily throughout his career, I think as an open seat the calculus just totally changes,” Kondik said.

“We know that the national environment in the fall is at least going to be a little bit Democratic leaning and maybe a lot Democratic leaning. And so you put that all together, and I think you do have to look at this district as basically 50-50, even while conceding that Republicans may ultimately have the edge, based on whoever the candidates may be,” Kondik said.

Kondik acknowledged that President Trump won the 1st District by 10 points, and conservative Judge Michael Screnock won it by 5 points, even while losing the state as a whole in the April 3 election for Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In another segment, BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Corri Hess said the possible loss of the Bon Ton stores will be a “huge hit” for shopping malls around the state.

Bon Ton, with 13 stores and more than 2,200 employees in Wisconsin, goes to auction Monday and faces possible liquidation.

Hess said Bon Ton has been struggling for years in a difficult environment for brick-and-mortar retailers.

“These mid-level (stores) have had trouble because people have gone other places to shop,” she said. Higher-end and lower-end retailers have fared better, she said.

Hess said if Bon Ton is liquidated, it will be very tough for struggling malls like Southridge and Bayshore in suburban Milwaukee, and the Regency Mall in Racine.

“In a lot of small towns, this is the department store to go to, actually across the state, and across the country,” she said.

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