Paul Ryan Has Never Been Much of a Match for President Obama


Conservative Philip Klein explains what drives Paul Ryan, who’s likely to become the next Speaker of the House:

The prospect of Speaker Ryan has pitted those who portray him as some sort of enemy against conservatism against those who try to defend him as an unimpeachable conservative icon.

In reality, neither of these views capture who Ryan is. In the many interviews I’ve conducted with Ryan over the years, what’s been clear is that he is philosophically conservative and passionate about trying to translate abstract limited government principles into tangible policy solutions.

….After President Obama took office, when many Republicans were opposing Obama and his agenda in a mindless way, Ryan was able to able to make detailed, fact-based critiques of the administration’s policies, calmly but devastatingly annihilating Obama’s deficit skullduggery and dubious healthcare claims.

Hmmm. I watched the televised health care “summit” and I remember Ryan being pretty ineffective. In fact, I thought Obama defanged him methodically and convincingly. Nor has Ryan “annihilated” any deficit skullduggery that I can remember. He issues his roadmaps, which no one really seems to take seriously any longer since the magic asterisks keep getting larger and bolder over time, and he’s cut a few pragmatic budget deals with Democrats. He has a calm affect, and he undoubtedly understands the minutiae of the budget process.

But the truth is that he’s not a very effective critic of the administration. He doesn’t rile the base like some of the tea party guys, and his technical criticisms don’t usually amount to much. Partly this is because, contra Klein, Obama is relatively honest about his budget claims, which makes it hard to tear them apart, and partly because Ryan’s own claims have lost credibility thanks to his relentless unwillingness to explain exactly what he’d cut to reach his Holy Grail of lower taxes and a balanced budget.

In theory, Ryan’s combination of conservative street cred and pragmatic approach to getting things done should serve him well as Speaker. But then, that’s more or less what I thought about Scott Walker, too, and we all saw how that turned out. Ryan is going to have a tough time trying to herd Republican cats into a semblance of order. Good luck.