Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Despite history, a Ryan presidential candidacy from the House makes sense for 2012
I commend to you this thoughtful and articulate post (including its comments) by my blogospheric friend Dafydd ab Hugh of Big Lizards. Dafydd considers my arguments in favor of drafting House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, but finds himself unpersuaded.
One of Dafydd's minor points is a better-argued variation on a theme that's been sounded fairly frequently about presidential candidates who are sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including such recent historical footnotes as John Anderson and Dennis Kucinich (Dafydd's boldface & italics omitted here):
Look, I like Paul Ryan, and I love his plan to rescue the budget and economy. But I'm nervous about him being the GOP standard bearer next year — given that the last time anyone went directly from the House to the White House was James Garfield in 1880.
A representative running for president was of course far more common in the nineteenth century, and the House was held in much higher regard than now. Too, Garfield was a nine-term congressman first elected during the Civil War; and he served for five years as Appropriations Committee chairman. But in 2012, Ryan will be a seven-term congressman who will have served as Budget Committee chairman less than two years....
(Dafydd's post continues with a series of other well-made arguments that I think are more specific to Chairman Ryan. I've addressed some of them briefly in comments on his blog, and I may eventually expand on those arguments, or address other points, in future posts here. I intend to confine this post, however, specifically to the argument that Ryan's poorly situated to run from the House.)
For several reasons, I'm less impressed by this "nobody's won from the House in decades" argument in this particular year. For one thing, we don't have a GOP candidate with high federal executive experience this cycle — none of the three theoretically eligible GOP ex-Veeps (Quayle, Cheney, and yes, think about it, Bush-41) are plausible candidates. The two most recent GOP presidential nominees drawn from the Senate, Dole and McCain, ran awful campaigns that made everyone wonder why we couldn't find a better nominee. Rick Santorum is running on the strength of his two terms in the Senate, but he was defeated in 2006. And since John Thune's decision not to run, no sitting GOP senators have been overtly preparing for the race or even generating any buzz — and no one seems to regret that at all this year.
State governors at least have executive experience, but not at the federal level. There are vast differences between governing even a very large state and serving as POTUS, and state governors almost inevitably lack even the foreign policy experience of the lowliest Congressman, who's at least had occasion to consider and vote on foreign policy legislation. But I agree with Dafydd that there are several plausible candidates, existing or rumored, who have as strong credentials as any state governor is likely to ever have, and they're serious candidates. (They'd also nicely balance Ryan's federal legislative experience if one of them were his Veep nominee; or, I concede, vice versa.)
Nevertheless, and more importantly, I believe we are on the cusp of an electoral revolution comparable to that which the Reagan-Bush ticket accomplished in their 1980 defeat of the Carter-Mondale ticket. Certainly several sitting state governors are playing high-profile roles in dealing with their respective states' analogs, at the state level, to the federal problems being hashed out in Washington. But as a direct consequence of the 2010 off-year elections — in which the White House was not in dispute, and the GOP failed to recapture the Senate, but quite dramatically regained control of the House — the House has been where the action's been since January 2011. The Senate, by contrast, continues in near paralysis.
Up through and including the November 2012 election, the House GOP members will continue to apply essentially all of the pressure which will drive (or undo) potential compromises elsewhere. Indeed, conservatives have to depend on the House GOP members to keep the pressure up on not only Senate Dems and Obama, but on Senate Republicans.
For the 2012 election, then, more than most others, I think it makes particularly good sense to consider, and properly appreciate, the leadership Ryan has shown, and continues to show daily, from the House. You find your most effective leaders by going where the conflict is most stark and checking to see who's following whom. For this cycle, the most critical action is in the U.S. House, and in overwhelming numbers the House GOP members are following Paul Ryan's lead.
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In the end, it won't matter.
In marketing, 'credibility' only comes into play to the extent the marketer needs to convince the prospect that the product can in fact deliver the desired results. In politics, 'experience' is a component of credibility. To respond to concerns voters (as egged on by the press) may have regarding the (non-incumbent) candidate's ability to deliver on his various campaign promises (unfortunately, this didn't happen enough in 2008), a candidate is likely to tout his experience doing X or Y in the same way a job candidate would tout his or her somewhat related experience in an attempt to win over the interviewer.
Ryan doesn't have a lot of relevant experience to that of President, and Obama can be counted on to highlight his own experience with Ryan's lack of experience.
The question is: will that hurt Ryan? Right now, Ryan would be a one-issue candidate (quick: name another issue Ryan is thought of as expert in?). If he gains traction, it will be because a substantial bloc of voters feel (1) cutting government spending is the issue that trumps all other issues, and (2) Ryan is the guy they want leading the charge.
And thus lies the rub. The only way (1) happens is if Ryan was able to convince the public that the sky has already started to fall, that it is falling on them, and it is this that is killing them in the wallet.
And Ryan isn't doing that, he is talking about this in the abstract, he isn't personalizing the issue. He needs to scare people and he isn't.
So in the end, his lack of experience/coming from the House won't matter... because he'll never get taken seriously enough by enough voters for the issue of his supposed experience to become a campaign issue.
Yes, this has been a bunch of words making the point I made to an earlier post of yours.
(2) Fred made the following comment | May 31, 2011 8:47:00 PM | Permalink
I don't think that the fact that no one has been elected from the House since Garfield is as compelling as it once was. Until recently it was difficult for a House member to gain enough name recognition to be a viable candidate (except possibly in major media markets). This is less significant now. With so much news available on cable TV and the internet, House members have much more opportunity to become known. I submit that Michele Bachmann is a good example of this. I don't think that she'll be the nominee, but after only four and one-half years in the House, she is very well known nationally, better known than a number of senators. Another factor to consider is that relatively few House members are inclined to run for president because, unlike senators part-way through a term, they don't have the luxury of keeping their seats if they fail (with the exception of the few states that allow running for two offices simultaneously or flaming out early, such as Kucinich). Finally, another reason for the historic difficulty of being elected from the House may be that a House member from a "safe" district, on either side of the aisle, doesn't have to moderate his or her positions as much as a senator or governor, who is elected statewide. Although Paul Ryan's district is considered safe, I think he would be capable of winning a statewide or national election. Of the House candidates who have run since 1880, how many were as well known as Paul Ryan is now? Very few, I suspect. I think that Paul Ryan would be in the top tier instantly if he were to decide to run. In the event he were to win the nomination the debates against the president would be worth paying to see. Aside: If Ryan were elected in 2012 he would be 42 years 357 days old on inauguration day. He would be the youngest elected president but 35 days older than Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded McKinley after his assassination.
(3) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jun 1, 2011 4:27:55 PM | Permalink
Dear Mr. Dyer: Fred's #2 has made the most excellent point that running for any other office is usually an "up or out" for Representatives. Against that a bit is Wisconsin's new election law which has moved the federal primaries back to September. I don't have the patience to sift through Wisconsin's statutes to see when the deadline for committing to the primary, but it does seem possible that Ryan could try a Prez run and switch over in time should it fail. So far as the "no Representative since Garfield" has gone directly to the White House, it's true. Even if we expand the field to those who have tried seriously, it doesn't get much better:
1896: Thomas Reed. Great Speaker of the House, but dreadful candidate who wanted to be handed the job, but not so much that he was willing to get in the arena.
1896: William Jennings Bryan, The Obama of his day, he stormed the citadel with the famous "Cross of Gold" speech that easily outshines any of The One's drivel. Like Ryan, he was young (only 36) and with definite views on the role of government. But McKinley beat him badly twice, and even Taft knocked him down without much trouble.
1932: John Nance Garner. Goodish Speaker of the House, but again a poor campaigner. It didn't help that in those days Texas has a Southern perception that was the kiss of death to national candidates.
1972: Paul McCloskey, against Nixon. It's a signof how ineffectual he was that his campaign against RN didn't even get him on Nixon's enemies list.
1980: Phillip Crane of Illinois against Reagan. Who? Also John Anderson of Illinois against Reagan. He did better, but was steamrolled. He tried as an independent, and held down RR's popular margin, but not the Electoral College. A great favorite of libs looking for a way out of the Bumpkin, once Teddy K's candidacy blew up.
1988: Dick Gephardt. Effective Representative, tried hard, didn't get far. Ditto for Jack Kemp of the GOP side.
That's not an encouraging historical record. I think one reason you overestimage PR is that you, like me, and the readers of this blog have a serious interest in politics and freely spend time keeping up with it. Far more folks don't share this interest, following the Volokh Conspiracy's notion of "rational ignorance." Thus, PR is a candidate of a few. It's a start, but he's got a long way to go. He has the strengths and weaknesses of Jack Kemp, who got through the Kemp-Roth tax cuts of 1981 (in a Democratic House no less) but didn't get far in chasing higher office. So far as "Going where the conflict is" to finding your leaders, that description fit Hubert Humphrey or even Lyndon Johnson far better than it did Kennedy in 1960. What happened there? It also fit McC far better than any other GOPer in 2008. How well did that work out?
PR has many strengths. The 'experience" argument is at least partially mitigated by his wonkishness. Unlike The One who spend half his time in the Senate raising money and the other half kissing a mirror, PR has thought long and hard about what needs to be done, and expended a lot of effort in using the fabulous facilities of Congress to learn about how to do it. I also think he does a better than average job in explaining his views to people. I think he'd easily best The One in a televised debate, no matter who the liberal bigots put up to moderate it.
I still think the right idea for the voters is to wait a bit. It's true, the candidates have to get going now, but time and chance can do a lot to a candidate in a year and half before an election. Ask GHW Bush.
By the way, many thanks for the post on Weiss, who has been missed.
(4) LLoyd made the following comment | Jun 4, 2011 10:42:33 PM | Permalink
Read the post from H/A Beldar. I'm there daily. Dafydd makes some very good points. I like Paul Ryan too BUT he is NOT the standard bearer for the Repubs. I am of the persuasion and enlightenment of the "Ruling Class" of the Blue Bloods and I as many millions did afgter the McCain debackle have said to the 'establishment'--forgedaboudit! We are finished putting up with your b.s. RHINOism. Michael Steel blew his cover which was good and gave the base a even greater reason for not sending any more money to the national committee.
We need someone out there fighting 'like a girl' and I think that person is Herman Cain: The Black President we should have had. I think it would be just sweet revenge on the lib blacks and the whole Demon-crat party of this country to have a good old "Uncle Tom" drive them out of their freeking minds but doing the right and righteous thing. He only needs to smooth out a few of the Presidential rough edges but my gawd---he's 100 times better than Barry could ever be---and the man can speak!!!! And he don't need no teleprompter!
He can make Paul Ryan head of HHC if he wants too or if Ryan wants it or head of the Excheckquer for this damn gubbamint, I don't care. Paul is a good man. There are a lot like him and this time we get peeps like him in the administration we are not going to have to worry about slush fund money and we aren't going to wonder on a daily basis what freedoms are we being striped of.
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