Those who argue that Paul Ryan would have a much harder time winning the GOP nomination now that Rick Perry is sucking a lot of the conservative oxygen out of the room have a point. Campaigns are won with message, money, and organization, and all Ryan has right now is a message.
But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be able to appeal to a broad spectrum of Republicans and independents, and crossover Dems in those states that allow crossover voting. Our good friend Phil Klein seems to argue that Ryan has nowhere to go, in terms of voter groups. I usually admire Phil’s political judgment, but not here. Ryan’s record and persona mean that he is one of the few candidates that can pull from multiple voter groups at once. He keeps getting elected in a slightly Democrat-leaning district, for one thing — and with very solid majorities. He knows how to appeal to blue collar workers. He knows how to take on hot-button issues and play them to his advantage with usually skeptical groups. Yeah, yeah, he voted for TARP. Any economic conservative who holds that against him is a numbskull — not because voting against TARP wasn’t a mistake, which it was, but because any officeholder’s record needs to be judged in toto, and all told it is undeniable that Ryan’s economic approach is more effectively and persuasively conservative than just about any candidate in the past 20 years. If Peyton Manning throws an interception, does that one interception make him a bad quarterback? Of course not.
Anyway, Ryan is perhaps the only full-spectrum conservative with a proven record of successfully earning votes across party and ideological lines. Michele Bachmann wins in a heavily GOP district with vote totals below that of most GOPers in that district. Rick Perry wins in overwhelmingly GOP-voting Texas, sometimes by small margins. Mitt Romney was too scared to run for re-election in Massachusetts because he had every reason to expect to lose. But Ryan keeps getting re-elected in the same ditrict that sent liberal Les Aspin to Congress for something like 22 years. And yes, Ryan does so as a full-spectrum conservative. He is a supply-sider who even worked for Jack Kemp. He is a cultural conservative and pro-lifer who worked for Bill Bennett and Sam Brownback. He is a budget-cutter who has put forth the boldest budget reform plan to pass the House in decades. He is a strong-defense guy. And he is a strong 2nd Amendment guy — and, for that matter, an excellent bow hunter. Finally, he scares the bleep out of Barack Hussein The One Obama, who can’t stand up to him one-on-one in debate. All of which means that, if he can somehow put together the money and organization, he can appeal to a wide spectrum of voters, in the primaries and in the general election.
Hey, I could probably name a dozen Ryan votes I haven’t liked, and I blasted him in print here at TAS for one of them several months ago. But, from a purely analytical standpoint in terms of political viability, Paul Ryan “has game.”
He’s not the only one with such proven political skills who is running or might run, but he’s certainly among the most accomplished. This isn’t an endorsement, by any means. (Heck, I’m still waiting to endorse Mike Pence. I guess that didn’t pan out!) It’s just political reality.