All signs right now suggest the Democrats have taken away a Republican House seat in a special election in upstate New York after a particularly screwy race. And great efforts are already underway to explain the GOP defeat on the House budget plan pushed by the remarkable Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Democrats and their proxies were deceitful about the details of the Ryan plan, scaring seniors about how Medicare would change for them when in fact it will be preserved for all current recipients. Those scare tactics seem to have worked to some degree.
A great many people have been looking at Paul Ryan and seeing the perfect presidential antidote to Barack Obama. Last year, watching Ryan tussle with the president, we all saw a superstar politician in the making. And some, like my friends Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer and Rich Lowry, have been saying up until today that Ryan might and should get in. I don’t think that idea is viable now, given the real questions that will be posed about whether Ryan’s budget proposal is an electoral liability.
This is one of those life-isn’t-fair occasions that characterize politics. What Ryan did in drawing up his budget plan was brave, visionary, and direct, and therefore highly controversial. And the words “controversial” and “successful presidential candidate” do not mix.
Ryan is no Gingrich, no Palin. He does not have the manner or mien of someone who accepts and even welcomes division. But by facing down the inescapable problem of the American fiscal future and proposing tough measures to forestall disaster, he has done what politicians spend their careers avoiding—he has staked his claim to leadership by fearless truth-telling. He cleaned the lens. But voters want the chance to view their leaders through gauze. The Ryan 2012 boomlet is over.