I would like to revise and extend my remarks from last night regarding the meaning of the special election in New York. I do not think the Paul Ryan budget poses a mortal danger to Republicans in 2012, or that Paul Ryan has become an albatross. The fact that Republicans have put the only serious proposal on the table to deal with the coming budget calamity will count in their favor with independent voters next year—though it must be said that the specifics of that proposal are worthy of debate and revision and should not be considered sacrosanct.
Case in point: This morning brought more bad economic news, with a gigantic drop in durable goods orders and sales that is part, but only part, of the reason forecasters are significantly downgrading their expectations on second-quarter GDP growth. Anemic growth is not only troubling for the president and the Democrats because of the negligible effect it will have on pocketbooks and employment; it will also make the eyepopping deficit and debt numbers even more eye-popping as we head into 2012.
In isolation, as was the case of this special election, Democrats and Obama can focus on supposed GOP threats to Medicare. But the president and his party next year will have to account for the economy and the size of government as a whole, and even with an openly biased press trying to secure his reelection, Obama will not be able to flee from explaining what it is he intends to do to avoid the cliff, or the brick wall, or the chasm, or whatever metaphor you can find for the moment when the entitlements literally eat up the entire federal budget. And, as Jonathan points out, he will have to account as well for the changes to Medicare in his own health-care plan, which remains unpopular.
All that said, the notion that Paul Ryan himself is in a position to be the standard-bearer for the Republican party in 2012 was dealt a mortal blow last night. He has said he isn’t going to run, but if the party and its leaders were to coalesce around the idea of him running over the course of the next six weeks, his decision could have been overturned. That won’t happen now.