October 23, 2015


The Ryan Revolution (Matthew Continetti, October 23, 2015, Free Beacon)

The story begins in 2008. The GOP was approaching a nadir--unpopular, exhausted, in the minority. What did Ryan do? He authored the first version of his budget, the Roadmap for America's Future. He called for spending and tax cuts, changes to Social Security and Medicare.

He became the unofficial GOP spokesman for free markets and fiscal restraint. No one ordered him to do this. He alone among House Republicans took the initiative, much like his hero Jack Kemp had done in the 1970s.

You might disagree with Ryan's ideas--Lord knows I have my differences--but you can't deny his courage to stand in the public arena, his commitment to his program, his readiness to defend it.

The GOP moved toward Ryan. In 2010 he updated the Roadmap and submitted it to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis. His colleagues were curious about the plan, how to discuss it with their constituents. Ryan taught them the details. His dissection of Obamacare as Obama sat glaring before him made Ryan a viral video star.

Everyone on the left, from President Obama to the most insignificant troll on the most obscure DailyKos comment thread, went after him. Indeed, it was the left that made Ryan the figurehead of the GOP.

But the attack backfired. GOP gains in 2010 were historic. The Mediscare tactic didn't work. And when Republicans took control of the House in 2011, Ryan turned the roadmap into a budget plan, the Path to Prosperity. The House passed it. Republicans were on record. The GOP was the party of spending restraint, tax cuts, entitlement reform.

There have been two elections since. The Republican House majority is now larger than it was in 2010. The Republicans hold the Senate. Remember the ad where a Ryan lookalike pushes grandma off a cliff? A big fail.

So gripping did Republicans find this vision that the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, chose Ryan as his running mate--an implicit endorsement of the Path to Prosperity. In the space of four years, a relatively unknown congressman from Wisconsin had become the chief ideologist and spokesman for the GOP.

Paul Ryan Can Save the House Republicans (Reihan Salam, 10/23/15, Slate)

Earlier this year, the political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins published an article on the fundamental asymmetry in U.S. party politics. Grossmann and Hopkins observe that while the GOP is best understood as "the agent of an ideological movement whose supporters prize doctrinal purity," the Democratic Party is "a coalition of social groups seeking concrete government action." To oversimplify matters, Democrats are far more inclined to believe that half a loaf is better than none while Republicans tend to fixate on questions of principle. Ryan's central challenge as speaker is that he fully appreciates something that many of his colleagues do not, which is that only a minority of Americans are committed ideological conservatives. To win elections and pass legislation, you must persuade at least some people who don't share your ideological priors. Ryan's pragmatic streak is why he has spent much of the past few years trying to craft bipartisan proposals to fight poverty and trim the budget deficit, despite the fact that doing so has lost him at least some friends on the right.

Several of Ryan's supposed heresies reflect an understanding that, as he said to the conservative journalist Philip Klein in 2010, "Sometimes you have to take votes you don't want to take, but they're the best of two choices." As an example, Ryan explained to Klein that the reason he backed the Wall Street bailout is that he feared the alternative would have been an economic collapse, which in turn would have paved the way for a massive expansion of government. Similarly, Ryan is lambasted by conservatives for backing the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, a sprawling, expensive proposal that established a new Medicare prescription drug benefit. He defends his vote by saying that had Congress not passed the Medicare Modernization Act, it would have passed some other Medicare-expanding legislation that would not have included its various free-market reforms. Judging by the growing popularity of Medicare Advantage, the optional Medicare private insurance plans that were one of the chief fruits of that legislation and which many conservatives see as the basis for future Medicare reform, it seems that Ryan was right. Over the long term, the Medicare Modernization Act has left conservatives in a better position to advance their goals than another bill that would have just established a new prescription drug benefit and left it at that. Half a loaf really did prove to be better than none. The question is whether Ryan can persuade his fellow House Republicans that incremental progress is worth fighting for.

The greatest danger facing Republicans in the coming months is what you might call the politics of wishful thinking. Paul Ryan's job will be to convince Republicans, including Freedom Caucus Republicans, to face certain realities.

Posted by at October 23, 2015 6:35 PM

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