Paul Ryan’s ideas are so toxic to the voting public, he can never articulate these ideas. He’s been a flim-flam man for so long, he’s probably forgotten what it is like to be honest. Perfect for the party of Donald Trump, in other words.
The details of Ryan’s vision have always remained somewhat foggy. The conservative revolution Ryan has in mind isn’t a popular or cultural one; it is entirely legislative. And the predicate for enacting it isn’t to sell a set of ideas to the public, but to steel the spines of legislators to vote for Ryan’s ideas no matter what the public thinks.
Ryan’s revolutionary ideas themselves aren’t entirely clear, either, though that wasn’t always the case. Before he became the undisputed intellectual leader of the conservative movement in the Obama era, he laid out a series of specific and radical reforms–including Social Security and Medicare privatization–in a 2008 bill called the Roadmap for America’s Future. When it fell to him as chairman of the House budget committee to draft a governing agenda for the whole party, though, many of the details vanished.
Ryan still wants to devolve Medicare into a subsidized system of competition between insurance carriers, but only for seniors in the distant future. He still wants to hand Medicaid over to the states and slash its budgets by hundreds of billions of dollars. He still wants to cut income tax rates for the wealthy to about a third of their current level. He still wants to spend lavishly on the military. But when asked how to pay for it all, he’s exceedingly vague. He promises to cut tax expenditures, but doesn’t say how or which ones. He promises to slash the domestic discretionary budget (which disproportionately benefits the poor), but won’t say which programs, or by how much.
All of that was to be decided after Republicans won the White House. That was Ryan’s game plan when he was budget chairman; it remained his game plan as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012. And the plan seemed to be well within reach when Republicans finally consolidated control of Congress in 2015, and a raft of talented candidates were lining up to fill the last piece of the puzzle: the presidency.
It’s impossible to fully grasp Ryan’s thinking without understanding how close he feels he’s come to realizing a decades-old dream. That dream, as Grover Norquist told CPAC four years ago, culminates with the election of a figurehead. “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget…We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate…Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.”
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In a just universe, Donald Trump will lead to an overwhelming loss to the Republican Party, putting the GOP as the minority party for decades in both House and Senate.