Paul Ryan speaks in Fayetteville, North Carolina, August 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Sara D. Davis)
Reasonable people might ask: What is Paul Ryan thinking?
The new budget “plan” from the guy Republicans think of as their “numbers guy” is little more than an assemblage of bumper-sticker slogans. And they aren’t even popular slogans: They’re rehashes of the proposals American voters—including Ryan’s own constituents—rejected in 2012.
So what is Paul Ryan up to?
Well, if you don’t know by now, you haven’t been paying attention.
What Paul Ryan is up to is not balancing budgets or reforming “entitlement” programs. He knows that “the plan” he unveiled on Wednesday—with its $5.7 trillion in spending cuts and fantastical assertion that austerity will balance the budget in a decade—will not be the plan going forward for the United States. A man of Washington with more than a quarter-century of insider experience, he well understands that it may not even be part of the plan.
That is not the point.
The point, as Ryan watchers will recognize, is to make conservatives believe that Paul Ryan is the one prominent Republican who can see straight when it comes to budget matters.
So it is that the House Budget Committee chairman is launching his budget proposal on the Wednesday before the start of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will bring thousands of the Republican Party’s most determined right-wing advocates to Washington. And who will be kicking things off on Friday morning? In the prime spot to set up coverage of conference? That would be Paul Ryan.
Yes, of course, he will have some limelight competition. Sarah Palin is back after going missing for most of 2012. Marco Rubio will drop by for a glass of water. And Rand Paul will deliver a shortened version of his recent filibuster. They’re all pictured on the front of the CPAC promotional materials. But there in the montage, just a little bit more prominent than the other three “stars,” is Paul Ryan.
Ryan’s running mate on the 2012 Republican ticket, Mitt Romney, does not get the “star” treatment.
Yes, it may be true that Ryan is the rare major-party vice presidential candidate whose image was damaged by taking a place on a national ticket. Yes, it may be true that, once Americans got to know Paul Ryan, the Republican ticket on which he was running began to lose steam. Yes, it may be true that the Romney-Ryan ticket lost Ryan’s home precinct, his hometown, his home county and his home state.