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The 'Paul Ryan for President' Delusion | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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The 'Paul Ryan for President' Delusion

Not all Republicans are delusional.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich correctly identified House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan’s plan to use a form of vouchers to redirect Medicare and Medicaid spending away from providing health care and toward a massive government bailout of for-profit insurance companies as “right-wing social engineering.” Only when the gatekeepers of the new Republican orthodoxy informed him that truth telling was not allowed by those who might imagine themselves as serious contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination did Gingrich abandon reality-based politics. But that did not make his initial assessment of Ryan’s scheme to redistribute wealth upward any less truthful.

Even after Gingrich got slapped around for daring to challenge the GOP’s “golden boy,” the other GOP presidential candidates avoided making Ryan’s plan as their own. While they did not dare condemn it, they certainly did not extend a warm embrace to a proposal that polls suggest is opposed by almost 80 percent of Americans. For instance, while Minnesota Congressman Michele Bachmann may have voted for Ryan’s budget when it came before the House, she now says that she has reservations regarding the Wisconsin congressman’s approach to Medicare.

The same goes for Jane Corwin, the Republican nominee in Tuesday’s New York special election for an open US House seat. After Democrat Kathy Hochul attacked Corwin’s support for the Ryan budget, Corwin started airing ads claiming she wants to go to Congress to “defend” Medicare and Social Security. Notably, Corwin did not invite Ryan to come and campaign for her.

No surprise there. Polls suggest that Ryan’s ideas are political toxic. Mainstream American voters would rather slash the Pentagon budget or hike taxes on the rich before even considering any of the changes the congressman is proposing to begin a process of privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

But there is one constituency that still approves of Ryan.

Indeed, they love him so much that they are now booming him as a GOP presidential prospect.

Washington, DC, powerbrokers and lobbyists had been counting on Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels to make a run for the party’s nod. Daniels, who served as director of George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, presided over the policies that expanded deficits in order provide massive tax breaks to the rich, pay multinational corporations to move jobs out of the US and steer hundreds of billions of dollars into the accounts of inefficient and disreputable defense contractors.

When Daniels decided late Saturday night to acknowledge the obvious—his would have been a ridiculous candidacy—the insiders shifted immediately toward Ryan.

Former House majority leader Dick Armey, who once served as a Gingrich lieutenant but who now makes his millions by fronting for corporate-sponsored “grassroots” campaigning on the Tea Partisan right, was talking up a Ryan candidacy within hours of the Daniels exit. “We have about 2 million activists across the country and, frankly, we are disappointed,” the FreedomWorks boss said of the decision by the Indiana governor. But, with Daniels done, Armey told CNN’s State of the Union, “Now, obviously, we have to start looking, and I was just saying this morning, maybe it’s time to start drafting Paul Ryan.”

Weekly Standard boss William Kristol, who once led the cheering section for former Vice President Dan Quayle’s national ambitions, was even more enthusiastic, predicting on Sunday that there was an even change Ryan would be the GOP nominee in 2012.

House majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, who enjoyed a pleasant round of speculation as a possible vice presidential runningmate for John McCain in 2008, was positively gushing at the prospect of a Ryan presidential bid. “Paul’s about real leadership,” chirped Cantor on Monday. “I think that that’s what this public so desperately wants to do right now. They don’t want to see individuals that just dismiss problems that we can just sweep under the rug.”

For his part, Ryan says: “I’m not running for president.”

But, as with so many of his statements, the wily Ryan left himself plenty of wiggle room.

“My plan is to be a good chairman of the House Budget Committee and fight for the fiscal sanity of this nation,” the Budget Committee chair said on NBC’s Meet the Press. You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road—I’m not talking about right now. And I want to focus on fixing the fiscal problems of this country.”

That “you never know” line will keep Dick Armey and his crew talking up Ryan, even as his name grows more and more politically threatening.

So there will be at least two groups cheering on this “Ryan for President” talk

Delusional Republicans (and the cynical Republicans who want to use them to grab control of the party apparatus)… and Democrats who recognize that the only thing better than running against Mitch Daniels would be running against Paul Ryan.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is preparing for the 2012 election season with a new line: “The fight of this Congress and beyond will be to preserve Medicare and not have it abolished,” says Pelosi. “The three most important issues we should be talking about are Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare.”

Pelosi knows that if the 2012 presidential and Congressional races are referendums on preserving Medicare as we know it, Democrats will win up and down the ballot.

And nothing would make 2012 election season over as one big referendum on Medicare like a “Paul Ryan for President” run.

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