Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ryan's Plan is Not a Litmus Test

Newt said crazy things about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan; Republicans freaked out. We have three theories to explain the piling on. Two are reasonable; one, in my view, is highly unlikely. The unlikely one, which Democrats are (sensibly) pushing and that Greg Sargent endorsed this morning: the Ryan Medicare plan, or more properly the House Republican Medicare plan, is now a litmus test that all true Republicans must endorse. I believe that's wrong; I think Republicans are free to oppose Ryan, as long as they do it carefully. So why did Newt cause a riot?

Reasonable theory #1 is that it was the way Newt attacked the Medicare plan. Suppose he had said that Ryan was courageous and serious, unlike Barack Obama, and that the Ryan plan was one reasonable option, but that Newt favors...and at that point, he could have filled in the blank in lots of ways, including meaningless rhetoric. Instead, by using language that everyone agrees will turn up in Democratic attack ads, he left Republicans little choice but to fight back. (See, for example, Ross Douthat's summary of the flap).

Reasonable theory #2 was written up well by Steve Kornacki yesterday: Republicans have no use for Newt Gingrich, and have just been waiting for an opportunity to let him -- and each other -- know that for sure.

I believe both of these are exactly right. Of course, House Republicans deserve to get tarred with their VoucherCare plan, since they voted for it -- and, overall, I think it's completely reasonable for Democrats to attack Republicans over their intentions about Medicare. But I really don't think that Paul Ryan's plan is actually a litmus test for Republicans in 2012, as long as candidates are sensible about how they avoid endorsing it, and I certainly don't think that's what's happened to Newt over the last few days. That's why I decided from the start not to take Newt's campaign seriously -- the guy is just a total fraud, and anyone who didn't remember it from the 1990s was bound to learn it soon enough.


  1. Don't forget: part of Newt's shtick is that he's "the smartest guy in the room." Never mind that he isn't; that's the Newt mythos.

    Ryan is the new "smartest guy in the room." Again, truth is irrelevant. Within the closed information loop that is the right wing, Ryan has been declared a genius. Boehner said so; McConnell said so; only TiVo knows for sure how many Fox News hosts said so. Look at the comment making the rounds on the internet by that guy who walked up to Newt and told him to stop embarrassing himself and quit. The Ryan plan has been sold as "the solution" for the "problem" that has been sold since Jan 21, 2009. Nevermind that it cuts Medicare....we don't need to talk about that part. Just know that the Ryan plan balances the budget by giving you a tax cut and getting rid of wasteful spending on poor black people. It's pure, sweet candy.

    So, I have a little sympathy for Sargent's point here. Reasons 1 & 2 are permissive....environmental; they are lacks of obstacles to jumping down Newt's throat. The latter part of the explanation of reason 1, though, is a positive reason why..I'd separate that from the initial part.

  2. I remember Newt being bad at the game from the 1990s. I just don't remember him being this relentlessly bad. (I was 14-16 at the time, but I was trying to follow stuff closely.)

  3. Newt's spokesman is more crazy than he is. Just read his response to all this:

    Very funny stuff!

  4. Neil,

    Seriously -- he's a total fraud.

    I do wonder whether he'll wind up killing off his own future market from all this. I suppose it is certainly possible that he'll manage to wind up losing respectably in Iowa (10%, 15%), and bow out gracefully after all...or that as soon as he's no longer a candidate, no matter how badly it goes, that he'll resume the place he's been for the last decade. Since I find it hard to get into the brains of those who buy what he's selling, it's real hard for me to figure out what would lose those customers.

  5. Jonathan,

    People like newt because he always has something interesting to say, even if it’s usually wrong. A liberal lawmaker friend of mine saw him speak at a conference a couple of years ago and she thought he was great. A Presidential campaign will make Newt more famous and more marketable. Even national humiliation comparable to what Donald Trump experienced will only cause his stock to rise.

  6. Couves,

    Could be. Since I don't find anything he says interesting, it's just hard for me to judge.

  7. I dunno -- I think you may be hairsplitting a bit.

    Let's try again: The Paul Ryan plan isn't a litmus test, but being at least as far to the right as Paul Ryan on the budget, the debt and deficit, and modification of our major entitlement plans is a litmus test.

    How's that?

  8. Steve,

    I'm just not sure that's true. Certainly not on debt/deficit; I mean, Ryan isn't as far "right" as Ryan on the deficit (given that his plan is based on phony numbers). Republicans these days certainly have to say that they're for deficit reduction, but they're still free to say that they'll get there by cutting taxes. Their position is also a mess on short-term Medicare.

    On long-term Medicare, I think they're all obliged to say something about it being out of control and something needs to be done, but that's about it.

    At least, that's what I see now. I'm certainly open to the possibility that it is becoming a litmus test. But I think that reading the Newt episode as "litmus test" is wrong. For example, Republicans are free to disagree with any particular position Reagan held, but any Republican who criticized Reagan himself, especially using circa-1980s liberal rhetoric, would be in huge trouble.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?