Jennifer Rubin summarizes the conventional wisdom on the right:
Democrats are high-fiving, certain that Medicare is now the killer issue for 2012 (and indifferent to the presence of a third-party candidate). I rather doubt it, and not because the New York state Republican party is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. As the Cook Report’s David Wasserman put it recently, “The three-way dynamic in NY-26 is simply more proof that special elections are mutant species. No two of the recent competitive special elections in NY-26, HI-01, PA-12, NY-23, or NY-20 have been exactly alike; their only commonality is that they held very little larger predictive value.”
Try as Democrats might to deny it, 2012 will be a referendum on the president; all elections with an incumbent president are. It will boil down to President Obama’s performance jobs, economic growth and the debt. Having failed to perform on all three so far, Obama will have his hands full.
She might be wrong, for reasons that Henry Olsen explains:
Tonight’s decisive victory by Democrat Kathy Hochul in the NY-26 special election will be tomorrow’s No. 1 topic of political conversation. Why did Hochul win a seat so Republican that John McCain won it handily, one of only four New York House seats to resist Obama? While the parties will argue over whether ads attacking Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan were to blame, a look at the underlying demographics confirms a year-long trend against the GOP among blue-collar whites. . . .
It’s bad enough that Hochul is running even with Obama’s totals from the best Democratic year in the past three decades. But the comparison to 2010 is truly frightening. Republicans were competitive in two statewide races last year, those for comptroller and attorney general. Fueled by the GOP wave, the Republican candidates in those races received 66 and 60 percent in NY-26 — well above McCain’s 52 percent in 2008 and George W. Bush’s 55 percent in 2004. Hochul is running 15 points ahead of the lowest performing 2010 Democrat, and, because of Davis, Republican Jane Corwin is running about 18 percent below the lowest performing Republican.
The verdict is clear. For whatever reason, the blue-collar independents and Democrats who voted Republican in droves last year did not vote GOP tonight. And many blue-collar Republicans voted for Davis rather than Corwin.
If Olsen is right, then David Frum’s historical metaphor might be wrong:
Paul Ryan is the Barry Goldwater of 2012. . . .
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.
In Frum’s scenario, Paul Ryan wouldn’t be Goldwater in 1964 but rather Gingrich in 1996. Bill Clinton didn’t run against Bob Dole so much as he ran against Dole-Gingrich. Paul Ryan today, like Gingrich in 1996, is the face of Republican party. And just as Dole had many significant differences from Gingrich but wasn’t able to separate himself from toxic Newt, so might the 2012 Republican nominee suffer from association with Paul Ryan.
Jonah Goldberg, remarkably enough, has a solution to the dilemma:
If Paul Ryan got in the race, he would be my first choice for president. But, as I suggest in my column today, I don’t think that’s the only reason he should get in the game. The NY-26 race will be wildly over-interpreted by the press and the Democrats as a death-blow to Ryan and the GOP budget. But that interpretation may well have a self-fulfilling aspect to it. You can be sure that the Democrats will only intensify their MediScare tactics.
If you think that’s a huge problem, Ryan getting in the race might be the best possible option. Because by getting in, Ryan would allow the rest of the field to differentiate themselves from Ryan and the House budget. Most of the contenders would have to differentiate themselves from Ryan while also coming up with more serious entitlement-reform plans of their own than they might otherwise.
Let’s assume Ryan gets in and loses and, say, Tim Pawlenty wins the nomination. After “pushing off” from Ryan in the primaries, Pawlenty would be far better situated to tell Obama in the general, “Look, you’re running against Paul Ryan. He’s not on this stage. I am. I beat Paul Ryan. Deal with me and my ideas.”
So Paul Ryan should run. If he wins the nomination, then Republicans will get the best possible spokesman for the Ryan budget, which right now seems likely to be the biggest domestic issue in the race. If Ryan doesn’t win, then the Republican nominee will be able to distance himself from a plan that not even the base liked. But if Ryan stays out of the race, then his plan will be an issue that the eventual nominee will have to defend—and worse, that Obama will demagogue relentlessly. History, Mark Twain once noted, doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. Will Gingrich ’96 rhyme with Ryan ’12?