Riddle: What do you call the guy who’s the Republican Party’s leading advocate of conservative entitlement reform?
Answer: A RINO (Republican in name only). At least that’s what some conservative activist groups and pundits would have you believe.
When people started throwing Congressman Paul Ryan’s name around as a possible replacement for Speaker of the House John Boehner, I had just two concerns:
- Would Ryan even want the job?
- How would it affect his current positions as the head of two important congressional committees?
Those things aren’t what some conservatives are worrying about, however. They’re worried that Ryan’s not conservative enough, and that he’s too establishment. This sentiment has been expressed by notable righties like Sean Hannity, Erik Erikson, Brent Bozell, Phyllis Schlafly, and even the Tea Party Patriots, and I’ve got to say that I find the charge nothing short of mind-numbing.
We are talking about Paul Ryan, right?
In my columns, I often push back against the idea that the conservative base in this country has veered into the far-right fringe, but the accusation that a man like Paul Ryan is suddenly too liberal and unprincipled to represent the conservative movement (and the GOP) might actually convince me that I’m a wrong.
Do people not remember him as the party’s leading warrior against Obamacare in 2009 and 2010? While most Republican leaders were voicing their opposition in platitudes, Ryan was aggressively dismantling the Democrats’ misleading numbers and false rhetoric in front of committees, cameras, and keyboards. Anyone who was following his social media accounts during this time understands how effective he was at rallying the public against the ACA, and keeping them apprised of the efforts in Congress to stop its passage. Since then, he has put forth budgetary legislation a number of times to repeal and replace the law.
Have people not been paying attention to all of the serious annual budgets he’s authored? You know, the ones proposing our entitlements programs be overhauled and made solvent, while cutting trillions from the national debt? Have people not been impressed with his plans for revamping the tax code?
As the Journal Sentinel’s Craig Gilbert described in a recent column, Ryan’s voting record would actually rank him as the most conservative speaker in decades. But somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter.
I was fortunate enough to meet Paul Ryan at a rally when he was running on the Republican presidential ticket in 2012. After laying out his conservative reform ideas in front of a large, loud crowd, Secret Service agents ushered him toward the exit. I shouted a question to him about the national debt as he sailed by, and to my surprise, he actually fought against the agents, and worked his way back to me to answer it. That’s how much he cares about this stuff.
The man clearly has a passion and drive for saving this country from economic dependency and ruin, and I think most conservatives used to recognize that. Today, I’m not so sure.
The conservative argument against Ryan for House Speaker seems to be that he’s been too tightly associated with “establishment” leaders like Boehner and McCarthy, and that he vocally opposes government shutdowns and debt-defaults. If that’s enough to disqualify one from consideration, I fear that the conservative movement will eventually reduce itself to nothing more than a primal, inconsequential scream against the evils of “big government.” Some would say we’re already dangerously close to that.
At some point, the principled hard-liners in the GOP are going to have to realize that few legislative victories are going to be achieved in Washington by purifying the Republican Party. It’s a wasted effort, and it does nothing to advance the conservative cause. In fact, it just makes us all look like a bunch of wing-nuts who would rather complain about problems than fix them, and I know that’s not the case.
I couldn’t tell you if Paul Ryan is the best person available to fill the role of speaker (or if he’ll even bring himself to vie for the position), but anyone who believes that he’s a liability (and not a valuable asset) to conservatism and the Republican Party has truly gone off the deep end.