I used to worry that Sarah Palin would be the Barry Goldwater of 2012. My bad. Paul Ryan is the Barry Goldwater of 2012.
The Goldwater effect continues on this morning after the NY-26 debacle. Henry Olsen of AEI, as smart a political numbers guy as can be found on the political right, crunches the numbers to compare the performance of the 2011 special election candidates with the district-wide performance of all other GOP and Democratic candidates in 2010. He finds:
- Republican congressional candidate Jane Corwin is running 18 points behind the worst-performing Republican of 2010
- Democrat Kathy Hochul is running even with Barack Obama’s performance in the district in 2008 – the best Democratic showing in NY-26 in three decades.
- The Republicans suffered their worst losses in the least-educated portions of the District, where former GOP voters seem to have deserted the party for an independent candidate, Jack Davis.
What should make this race all the more alarming for Republicans is that NY-26 turned into a referendum on the Ryan plan for Medicare. As Henry Olsen says:
blue-collar voters react differently to issues than the GOP base does. They are more supportive of safety-net programs at the same time as they are strongly opposed to large government programs in general. These voters crave stability and are uncertain of their ability to compete in a globalized economy that values higher education more each year. They are also susceptible to the age-old Democratic argument that the secret Republican agenda is to eviscerate middle-class entitlements to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.
The Ryan budget is uniquely vulnerable to that attack because it fuses very tough Medicare reforms with big tax cuts in the same document.
The political dangers in the Ryan budget could have been predicted in advance. In fact, they were predicted in advance – and widely. Yet the GOP proceeded anyway, all but four members of the House putting themselves on record in favor. Any acknowledgment of these dangers was instantly proclaimed taboo, as Newt Gingrich has painfully learned. Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer have enthusiastically promoted Paul Ryan as a presidential candidate. And this morning, as the reckoning arrives, the denial continues. Here’s Jonah Goldberg in a column arguing that “perhaps the only guy who can explain the GOP budget should run.”
In reality, Ryan is very unlikely to accept this draft. He declined the opportunity to run for US Senate in Wisconsin, likely because he sensed he could not win a state-wide election in which his budget would be the main issue.
Now we’re likely headed to the worst of all possible worlds. The GOP will run on a platform crafted to be maximally obnoxious to downscale voters. Some may hope that Tim Pawlenty’s biography may cushion the pain. Perhaps that’s right, at least as compared to Mitt Romney, who in the 2008 primaries did worst among Republicans earning less than $100,000 a year. And yes, Pawlenty is keeping his distance from the Ryan plan. But biography only takes you so far. The big issues of 2012 will be jobs and incomes in a nation still unrecovered from the catastrophe of 2008-2009. What does the GOP have to say to hard-pressed voters? Thus far the answer is: we offer Medicare cuts, Medicaid cuts, and tighter money aimed at raising the external value of the dollar.
No candidate, not even if he or she is born in a log cabin, would be able to sell that message to America’s working class.