[Posted by Karl]
Allahpundit is among those with heart-ache over Rep. Paul Ryan’s decision to stay out of the GOP presidential primary campaign, even while acknowledging Ryan would have been a long longshot for the nomination. But Allahpundit’s analysis of a prospective Ryan run goes a long way to explain the wisdom of Ryan’s decision:
There are two great risks to a Ryan candidacy. One: He’ll succeed in turning the focus of the primaries from economic growth to entitlement reform. We can argue about whether that’s a good thing — although Americans care much more about the former than the latter, it may be that this conversation simply can’t wait another moment — but if the party ends up with Ryan’s agenda, it had sure better have Ryan as its nominee too. The worst outcome would be if he shifts the discussion but then ends up losing the nomination, leaving the nominee stuck having to champion Ryan’s goals albeit less effectively than Ryan himself would/could do. And two: A run risks destroying Ryan’s brand. If he jumps in and gets Pawlenty’d in Iowa and New Hampshire, he goes back to D.C. knowing that his reform agenda was rejected even by ardent Republican voters. That would cripple him on the Hill; even if the GOP cleaned up on election day, a new Republican Congress would suddenly be reluctant to pass his budget. He’s taking a big risk on a very long longshot and it could end up setting back not just his political career but his cause.
Beyond that, where’s he getting the money to compete with Bachmann in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, and Perry in South Carolina?
As it turns out, these concerns were exactly those of Ryan and his inner circle.
Moreover, in his heart of Eeyoreness, Allahpundit knows as well as anyone — and better than most — just how likely a Ryan campaign would have damaged prospects for entitlement reform. He could tell you (and did) that the polling on Ryan’s Medicare reform plan is “supremely depressing, especially given rising awareness of the debt crisis.” He is the man who wrote: “It’s one thing to spend your time focused on an issue that’s of secondary importance to the public vis-a-vis unemployment (see, e.g., ObamaCare), it’s another to spend your time focused on an issue that actually frightens the public when it’s worried about the economy instead.” He is the man who wrote:
I’m so starved for good news in polling on Medicare that I’m willing to take the Jim Carrey position from “Dumb and Dumber.” What’s that you say? The chances of the American public supporting entitlement reform are one in a million?
So you’re telling me there’s a chance…
He is the man who looks at this issue and quips, “This is why I drink.” Given how lukewarm Republicans are on Ryan’s plan, the odds were high that a Ryan candidacy would have ended badly for Ryan and worse for entitlement reform.
Of course, the argument for a Ryan candidacy can be found in Allahpundit’s observation that “if the party ends up with Ryan’s agenda, it had sure better have Ryan as its nominee too.” As Beldar argued, Pres. Obama is going to base his campaign on demagoguing the Ryan budget, so the choice is who the GOP wants to defend and advocate it.
I find this argument ultimately unpersuasive because it assumes that the GOP will be forced to adopt the Obama campaign narrative and play defense in 2012. Although the establishment media will give Obama every opportunity to frame the campaign this way, the public ranks the economy in general and unemployment as more important issues. It is no coincidence that Obama is scrambling to have some sort of jobs proposal next month and that the two leading contenders for the GOP nomination have been talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. If Ryan was a candidate, let alone the nominee, the establishment media would do everything they could to keep his plan on a front burner. Absent Ryan, Obama and the Dems will have to affirmatively push the issue, which will allow some other GOP nominee to suggest that Obama is raising it to distract from his miserable failures on economic growth and employment, if they so choose.
When I mentioned I was thinking about writing a post like this, Allahpundit replied that he recognized some “hypocrisy” in his Ryan lament post. But I don’t think it’s hypocrisy. Rather it’s romanticism and it’s tough to fault Allahpundit for that uncharacteristic display. As someone deeply concerned about the debt bomb, I too would relish a grand debate over entitlement reform, with a candidate willing to hammer home the fact that Medicare As We Know It is going to end anyway. But the debate would likely turn out to be less than grand, and the public likely to remain as mired in denial as they are now. Accordingly, I would prefer to maximize the odds that the GOP wins the 2012 election, and minimize the damage until such time as the public moves into the appropriate stage of grief for the death of progressivism to actually accomplish something. That may be more cynical and pessimistic than Allahpundit — which is saying something — but I suspect it was also the backdrop of Ryan’s very smart decision not to run.