‘Help us Paul Ryan, you’re our only hope’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

In­di­ana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ an­nounce­ment that he can’t play in the pres­i­den­tial pri­maries be­cause his wife and daugh­ters say he’s not al­lowed to is ter­ri­ble news for the GOP and the coun­try.

It’s ter­ri­ble not be­cause Mr. Daniels was ob­vi­ously the best can­di­date or that he had the best chance to beat Pres­i­dent Obama. It’s ter­ri­ble be­cause Mr. Daniels would have el­e­vated the de­bate on en­ti­tle­ment re­form and the bud­get in a way that no one else cur­rently in the race seems able to.

Oh, the Tea Party will have plenty of can­di­dates. Min­nesota Rep. Michele Bach­mann, the founder and head of the House Tea Party Cau­cus, al­most surely will run and do quite well. Her­man Cain, the black for­mer busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive, re­mains a Tea Party rock star. On the more lib­er­tar­ian side, there’s Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and for­mer New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son. If those two have their way, the dol­lar will not only be backed by gold, it will be printed on pa­per made from hemp.

Nearly ev­ery stripe of con­ser­va­tive will have at least one stan­dard-bearer, or per­haps sev­eral (in­clud­ing gay Repub­li­cans, who can rally around the Fred Karger jug­ger­naut). Ex­cept, right now no one ap­pears equipped to de­fend the GOP House bud­get, writ­ten by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin, which likely will de­fine both the pres­i­den­tial and con­gres­sional elec­tions in 2012.

The Demo­crat-run Se­nate hasn’t passed a bud­get in more than 750 days, and Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid says it would be “fool­ish” to try. That’s be­cause the Democrats don’t want to muddy their at­tacks on Mr. Ryan’s idea of “pre­mium sup­port,” whereby the poor get more gen­er­ous vouch­ers than the mid­dle class or the wealthy to pay for Medi­care cov­er­age. By the way, the “rad­i­cal” con­cept of pre­mium sup­port is not so rad­i­cal. It has deep bi­par­ti­san roots, with en­dorse­ments from such Democrats as for­mer Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana and for­mer Rep. Dick Gephardt of Mis­souri.

The pres­i­dent’s coun­ter­pro­posal, splashed out in a ram­bling par­ti­san at­tack in April, es­sen­tially rein­tro­duces the whole “death pan­els” de­bate, al­beit at a macroe­co­nomic level, by em­pow­er­ing 15 pres­i­den­tially ap­pointed mem­bers of the In­de­pen­dent Pay­ment Ad­vi­sory Board to take the blame for throw­ing grandma off a cliff.

Re­gard­less, by rights, the 2012 pres­i­den­tial con­test should be a choice be­tween those two ap­proaches, plus the par­ties’ wildly di­ver­gent views on spend­ing and taxes. But no wonk on a white horse seems to be rid­ing to the res­cue.

Mitt Rom­ney can crunch the num­bers. But as his at­tempts to square his Mas­sachusetts “Rom­n­ey­care” with his op­po­si­tion to “Oba­macare” have shown, his sales­man­ship needs work.

Newt Gingrich should have picked up the man­tle, but he opted to tri­an­gu­late against Mr. Ryan. Al­most im­me­di­ately, tri­an­gu­la­tion proved to be the wrong ap­proach. If Mr. Gingrich merely had of­fered a mod­est dis­sent from the plan, he wouldn’t have spent the past week walk­ing back his state­ments.

Still, the Gingrich episode con­firms one of Mr. Ryan’s orig­i­nal strate­gic aims: to “box in” the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates on the is­sue of en­ti­tle­ment re­form. But it also shows why they came up with all of those “third rail” metaphors in the first place.

So the ques­tion many are ask­ing is: Should Mr. Ryan ride to the res­cue? If the elec­tion is go­ing to be a ref­er­en­dum on his plan, maybe the one guy who can sell it should get in the race. On Mon­day, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor called for Mr. Ryan to get in the race, say­ing, “Paul’s about real lead­er­ship.” Charles Krauthammer on Fox News’ “Spe­cial Re­port” said he wouldn’t just urge Mr. Ryan to run, he’d form a “posse.”

If Mr. Ryan ran, he prob­a­bly would drive the other can­di­dates fur­ther away from his own plan while forc­ing them to come up with se­ri­ous al­ter­na­tives of their own. Many think that if he got the nom­i­na­tion, he would clean Mr. Obama’s clock in the de­bates.

It’s a lot to ask. He has three young chil­dren and would have to get or­ga­nized and funded from a cold start for a long-shot run. But pol­i­tics is about mo­ments, and this one is call­ing him. Un­less some­one sud­denly rises to the chal­lenge, the cries of “Help us, Paul Ryan. You’re our only hope!” will only get louder.

Jonah Goldberg is edi­tor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

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