Did Republicans Drink the Ryan Kool-Aid? Debate Settled

by Jonathan Chait | May 10, 2011

I've been musing about how Republicans drank their own Tea Party Kool-aid and convinced themselves that voting for Paul Ryan's budget would go over well with the American public. Ramesh Ponnuru says they never believed they'd be popular:

I spent a fair amount of time earlier this spring arguing with other conservatives that including Medicare reform in a budget resolution was not the best way to advance the cause of entitlement reform. In all that time, nobody on the other side of the debate — no writers, think tankers, congressional staffers, congressmen — told me that I was wrong because Medicare reform was going to be popular. The closest anyone came was to say that maybe things had changed to the point that reform would not be as unpopular as it used to be. More commonly, people argued that it would be unpopular but that the alternatives — raising taxes or leaving the budget unbalanced forever — would be worse, both substantively and politically. It may be that some Republican here or there expected a more positive reaction than they got, but I don’t think that this can be said of most of the Republicans who made (or went along) with the decision to raise the Medicare issue.

I thought that was strange because Jeffrey Anderson has an item at the Weekly Standard right now arguing that Americans agree with Ryan's Medicare plan ("when a description accurately summarizes the Republican proposal, people seem to like it.) I asked ace reporter-researcher James Downie to find out whether the tidal wave of conservatives insisting Ryan's proposals would meet the approval of the public was just something I imagined. Turns out it wasn't. You can either take my word for it, or click below the break to see a massive trove of evidence:

Andrew Stiles:

“It’s just one poll, but for what it’s worth, it’s good news for Republicans, and further evidence that Americans are beginning to come to terms with the reality of our fiscal problems, a reality that only one party has made a serious effort to confront. Paul Ryan has done a superb job playing the ’Paul Revere of Fiscal Problems,’ and it seems that the American public is listening.”

James Capretta:

“In fact, not only did the Roadmap survive the 2010 mid-term campaign, the election results -- and the dominoes that have fallen since -- have made it far safer politically for Roadmap proponents to advance the plan's ideas in the public square.”

Kevin Ferris, Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Now, however, Ryan and the road map will be gaining the attention they deserve…What sounded radical in 2008 is now almost mainstream.
The president’s deficit reduction commission, which included Ryan, adopted the roadmap’s comprehensive approach to deficits, budgeting, entitlements and tax reform. The commission didn’t take all his ideas — in fact Ryan voted against the panel’s final report because it didn’t go far enough in addressing Medicare and health care reform.
Finally, here’s [one more] reason…why Americans will give Ryan and his road map a fair hearing in 2011: The Democrats got nothing. They’ve been all about binge spending and record deficits in the four years they’ve run Congress.
Even if Americans don’t agree with every twist and turn in the road map, they will find it and its author smart, serious and credible.”

Paul Ryan, in an interview with Paul Gigot:

“But why will this attempt at reforming entitlements be different politically than the marches into fixed bayonets of 1985, 1995 or 2005?
"Politically, I also believe it's going to be the right thing to do. People want conviction politicians. People want the problem solved. People turn on their TV, they see the European debt crisis. They see California, New York, Illinois. They understand there is a sovereign debt crisis popping all over the place," he says. "And to see a president duck and punt, and then try to use it as a political wedge against the opposing party to manipulate his re-election is not going to fly in this kind of climate."
I told you Mr. Ryan was an optimist. "Traditionally," entitlement demagoguery "would work," he concedes, but the times are different. "It didn't work in 2010. Ask the 87 freshmen who had this stuff thrown at them. And given the crisis we are in, and given that we are going to have a year and a half or two years of straight talking to the American people about how serious this is, and how we need to head it off at the pass, I like our chances."

Paul Gigot, at the end of that interview:

“The current GOP front-runners either don't share Mr. Ryan's convictions (Mitt Romney, Mr. Gingrich) or haven't yet shown they can combine fiscal reform with a pro-growth, optimistic message (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels).
Perhaps one of those or others will adopt the Ryan message, the way Ronald Reagan so fortuitously absorbed Jack Kemp's in 1980. But don't be surprised, as the 2011 budget fight unfolds and the presidential campaign heats up, if more Republicans begin to ask why they shouldn't get the chance to vote for the Janesville original.”

Matt Continetti:

“Ryan…plans to deliver his fiscal year 2012 Republican budget this week… Behind the Ryan policy is a realistic vision for conservative governance…Conservatives do not now have a monopoly on power. Quite the opposite: The GOP controls only the House of Representatives—not the Senate and, even more important, not the White House. That Republicans are on the path to achieving quite a bit is a testament to the power of their ideas and the nature of our times. Keeping the momentum going, however, requires tough-minded thinking about priorities and long-term goals. To embrace obstinacy over short-term spending and reluctance to tackle big-ticket items like Medicare and Medicaid would get the formula for success precisely backward. So let’s accept an achievable solution for this fiscal year, which is half over, and then begin to move the government in a responsible and conservative direction for decades to come.”

Michael Barone:

“In the short term, Ryan's budget resolution will likely be adopted in the Republican-controlled House and not even considered in the Democratic-majority Senate. Most of it will probably not become law this year.
But it's also likely to shape the economic platform for the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. None of the current potential candidates has come up with anything so comprehensive. Some have already stepped up and praised Ryan's plan.
But the political risk may be greater for the other side. "To be in a secure place for re-election," writes Mark Penn, a key strategist for Bill Clinton in 1996, "President Obama has some tasks ahead of him that will give him the edge when [the Republican] field is narrowed."
The first task, Penn writes, is to "take over leadership of the budget fight to turn it into a win for him and fiscal sanity."
It seems that Penn agrees with Ryan that American voters realize we are headed to fiscal Armageddon and that major changes must be made while we have time. What will they think of a president who disagrees?”

Wall Street Journal editorial board:

“The GOP political bet is that this debate won't be another replay of 1985, 1995 or 2005 because the political times have changed.”

Daniel Henninger:

“Paul Ryan's budget is inevitably about what Washington does (or refuses to do). But its underlying rationale is to reorder the relationship between Washington and the American people—country first, Washington behind. That notion is what November's startling tea party and independent vote for the GOP was about, and what the party's Senate and House freshmen appear to understand…There is a belief about that Ryan's budget is bucking the odds. Don't underestimate its appeal. That's been done before.”

John McCormack:

“The only problem with the backlash narrative is that it is wildly misleading. Despite efforts by labor unions and a variety of liberal activist organizations—One Wisconsin Now, MoveOn.org, Citizens Action of Wisconsin, Community for Change, etc.—to pack Ryan’s events with detractors and hecklers, they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by his supporters.”

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