The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes’ piece this morning is the talk of the conservative blogosphere. Hayes reports that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan is strongly considering a presidential run, and discussing it with his family while they holiday in Colorado.
Despite Rick Perry’s entry into the race last weekend, conservatives remain unhappy with the Republican presidential candidates. Yesterday a Wall Street Journal editorial found the conservative candidates wanting and encouraged others (likely Ryan or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) to join the race.
This has become a prevailing theme for disgruntled Republicans throughout 2011. I wrote about it in May, arguing that the party base was waiting for Godot. That was shortly before Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels decided against running.
Some in the GOP point to 1964, when conservative activists famously drafted Barry Goldwater and helped him when the party nomination over the Eastern Establishment Republicans like Pennsylvania’s William Scranton and New York’s Nelson Rockefeller.
National Review’s Bill Rusher and Cliff White famously launched the Draft Goldwater Committee from Suite 3505 of the Chanin Building in New York. This year, conservatives issued their draft notices on the web.
Ricochet’s Paul Rahe claimed Paul Ryan had a duty to run. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin echoed that sentiment, saying Ryan shouldn’t cop out of a presidential run because of the strain it would put on his family.
Conservatives feel now is the time Ryan should run. Both Rahe and Rubin say the country faces a tipping point brought about by our perilous fiscal condition, and could easily evolve into a European type social democratic state.
While both are right, I wonder if Paul Ryan is the best candidate to face Barack Obama in 2012. Republicans will win back the presidency if they keep the focus on the economy, unemployment and President Obama’s performance.
Rick Perry may be the best messenger for this line of attack. He can point to the job growth that took place in Texas on his watch.
Paul Ryan, on the other hand, will spend the campaign talking about entitlement reform and the budget. No doubt he’ll run laps around President Obama on policy, but liberals will win the political argument. Democrats will spend their time talking about Ryan’s Roadmap and bring back ads showing his Medicare plan throwing granny off a cliff.
Democrats have gained momentum twice this year: after the killing of Osama bin Laden and after the roll out to the Ryan budget, which included Medicare reform. The House passed the Ryan budget without any Democratic votes. The bill died in the Senate.
Polling showed Americans weren’t ready to change the Medicare program. A June CBS poll showed 58% favored keeping the program as is. Only 31% wanted to change the program. Ryan’s plan was unpopular in battleground states and among Tea Partiers.
Fellow Republicans bailed on the Ryan plan. Michele Bachmann couldn’t support it. Newt Gingrich famously called it “right-wing social engineering” in a Meet the Press appearance.
Those who favored it couldn’t sell it to the public. The issue dominated the special election in New York’s 26th District in May. Democrat Kathy Hochul won an upset victory when she made Ryan’s budget a central part of her campaign. GOP candidate Jane Corwin couldn’t defend the bill in the heavily Republican district (that was once home to supply sider Jack Kemp).
The special election showed how unpopular the Ryan plan is to the nation at large. Americans like their Medicare. They’d prefer that Washington balance the budget by cutting defense, discretionary spending, and foreign aid.
This is irrational. Entitlement spending is the greatest driver of the federal deficit, but Americans are unwilling to sacrifice their entitlements to tackle the nation’s debt burden. Polling has shown the bill is extremely unpopular among senior citizens, though the Ryan plan would not affect them.
Seniors vote. Both Democrats and Republicans have successfully demagogued the issue in recent years. Republicans made Obamacare a central part of their 2010 campaign strategy. They reminded seniors that the new health care law cut $500 billion from Medicare.
Ryan’s presence at the top of the ticket will make the 2012 election a referendum on Medicare. It will energize a liberal base that’s currently demoralized and wondering what’s wrong with the president. The Ryan Plan, not the president’s performance, will be the central campaign debate.
The American Spectator warned conservatives about the downside of a Ryan candidacy. Sadly I concur with the analysis.
My heart is with Paul Ryan. He is a thoughtful articulator of conservative principles and the man I believe would usher in a 21st century American renaissance. I would certainly vote for him in the primary and the general election. But numbers don’t lie: the polling suggests America isn’t ready for Ryan’s medicine.
Like his old boss Jack Kemp, I fear that Paul Ryan will never sit in the Oval Office.Alas.