GOP Enforcers Shoot Their Retreating Soldiers

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JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 20, 2011

GOP Enforcers Shoot Their Retreating Soldiers

The Republican Party's fascinating and apparently suicidal reaction to the Paul Ryan budget continues to accelerate. In the New York special election, where the party is pouring in money and staffers are flying in from Washington, the party has revamped its message and closing with a message accusing Democrat Kathy Hochul of wanting to cut Medicare (based on her vague statement that "everything is on the table.") Dave Weigel reports:

Hochul marched into the kitchen of the restaurant and talked to Paul Lignos, a chef who'd worked at the restaurant for 25 years.

"I've been hearing different things, I haven't been able to follow everything," he said. "You don't want to cut Medicare, right?"

"No, no," said Hochul. She gave him a quick rebuttal to the ad Republicans are running, which says because Hochul wants entitlement spending "on the table," she wants to cut it.

But while Republicans on the electoral front lines frantically retreat, electoral enforcers are arriving from the rear, forcing them to the frontlines at gunpoint. Michael Barone describes Ryan's budget as "the platform of the Republican party." Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks write an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal laying down a marker that any GOP presidential candidate endorse the Ryan plan, or possibly a more radical version thereof. Likewise, WSJ op-ed columnist Kimberly Strassel diagnoses the base's lack of enthusiasm for its presidential field as stemming from its lack of Ryan-like budget proposals:

Look at the rising Republican stars, those who have excited voters: Mr. Ryan, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. What do these men have in common? None are what the press likes to classify as "militant right-wingers," who whip up the base with gay marriage or abortion. Most aren't even particularly big talkers or partisan firebrands. Even Mr. Christie, who can verbal with the best of them, directs most of his volleys at entrenched interests—not political opponents.

These politicians are, instead, getting marks as the party's "doers," the guys making things happen. They lay out the ugly problems and then lay out the tough solutions—despite political risk. The press initially declared each of these individuals clinically insane for taking on Medicare, Social Security, public-employee unions. Yet it has been precisely their willingness to do so that has won them some measure of admiration from a public that is in the mood for action.

Strassel's list is an interesting window into conservative psychology. She says it's a list of doers, but that isn't correct. Mitch Daniels, probably the most accomplished doer in the party, doesn't appear on it, probably because of his left-wing deviations. Marco Rubio does appear, though he's done nothing at all except make comically maximalist debt ceiling demands. Strassel's list is a marker of the degree to which uncompromising policy maximalism in general, and the Ryan budget in particular, have become a party litmus test. Even as the front-line troopsunderstand they have made a huge blunder, the party's base seems ever more determined to march forward.

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posted in: jonathan chait, new york, washington, dave weigel, kathy hochul, kimberly strassel, paul lignos, medicare, republican party

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