Pawlenty Walks Into the Ryan Trap

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JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 26, 2011

Pawlenty Walks Into the Ryan Trap

I really don't understand why Tim Pawlenty would say this:

 “First of all, I applaud Congressman Ryan for his courage and his leadership in putting his plan forward. At least he has a plan. President Obama doesn't have a plan. The Democrats don't have a plan. And I really applaud his leadership and his courage in putting a plan on the table. Number two, we will have our own plan; it will have many similarities to Congressman Ryan's plan, but it will have some differences, one of which will be we'll address Social Security. He chose not to; we are addressing Social Security. And the Medicare part of our plan will have some differences, too. It will have some similarities also. So we'll have our own plan. But if I can't have my own plan — as president, I'll have my own plan – if I can't have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan's plan, of course I would sign it.

This is a complete unforced error, and Democrats are filling up my inbox with it. As far as I can tell, Republicans are not demanding that Pawlenty actually endorse or promise to sign Paul Ryan's budget. It's not clear whether the requirement is that he merely refrain from attacking it (a la poor Newt Gingrich) or that he actually say something nice about it. But you can say something nice while refusing to stand behind anything other than your own plan.

That was Pawlenty's position until today. He was presented with a hypothetical scenario in which both houses of Congress passed the Ryan budget. Obviously, if he were president, and both houses of Congress could pass Ryan's budget, he could probably get them to pass something like his budget, too. So it's a pure hypothetical. You know what politicians say in response to hypothetical questions designed to illuminate their position on an issue they prefer to obscure? They don't answer it!

I don't think this harms Pawlenty's chances of winning the nomination -- indeed, it may raise those chances slightly. But it does harm his chances of winning the general election if he gets the nomination. (I still have him as the favorite in the primary.) And it puts more pressure on other candidates to embrace the Ryan plan.

Keep in mind that Paul Begala's group ran ads attacking Romney on this issue specifically to force him to take a position on it. Romney has avoided the trap without consequence. Pawlenty walked right into it.

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posted in: jonathan chait, paul ryan, tim pawlenty

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