Sometimes it feels like Beltway analysts are determined to get things wrong. The lessons of the Paul Ryan budget vote and how it played out in this week's special election in western New York is a perfect illustration. Case in point: The Hotline. Here, have a look:
Republicans are quickly learning that not every one of their members is Paul Ryan. And that's becoming a problem as the party's rank-and-file tries to defend his far-reaching entitlement reform package to constituents back home.
And as many effective television appearances, PowerPoint presentations or online infomercials Ryan can offer to articulate his plan, the vast majority of voters simply aren't paying attention.
This is an amazing formulation. Josh Kraushaar and Sean Sullivan are literally saying that Jane Corwin's failing wasn't her support of the Ryan plan, but her inability to sell it well. That's just nuts. The Ryan plan simply isn't capable of being sold, which is something a lot of DC pundits simply can't grok. What's more, voters most certainly were paying attention: Siena's final poll found that Medicare was the single-most important issue for respondents "in deciding which candidate to support." Voters were emphatically tuned in, not tuned out.
Contrary to some accounts of his town hall meetings, Ryan actually received a predominantly positive reception at his town halls back home — in a district that's less Republican than the one Democrats picked up in New York. But while Ryan's natural policy chops allow him to be an effective messenger, a nuanced and convincing message may not come as easily for other Republicans.
So because Paul Ryan stage-managed a few town halls semi-decently, that means his plan is winner? And what other Republicans lack is simply Paul's campaign-trail chops? That flies in the face of polling which shows the Ryan plan to be deeply unpopular, period. Ryan may have survived a few appearances back in Janesville, but he's gotten beaten up pretty badly on the national stage for this debacle, and rightly so. And if Ryan had to endure the paid media campaign that Corwin faced, he'd be doing even worse back home.
"The only way you win this, is you've got to go back and explain it, and it's not a bumper sticker explanation," said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., at a roundtable discussion with reporters last week.
"One Member — who will remain unknown — in the conference, says, well Paul, I agree with this; can I take you with me to my district to explain it? Because you understand it and can explain it, but this is not easy stuff," Davis added, about the Ryan budget.
If other vulnerable Republicans don't study up, they could suffer the same fate as Corwin. Indeed, they're quickly learning that the messaging is as important as the message.
I really and truly hope this is what Republicans think — that their failure is simply one of messaging, and not actual policy. Indeed, this reminds me a lot of the Bush approach to the Iraq war, once things started going south: Rove et al. repeatedly tried to sell the media on a phony positive storyline, hoping it would drown out reality. It may have staved off disaster for a time, but in the end, it bit them, badly. You can only out-run the facts for so long.
And in the case of the Ryan budget, the facts have long since caught up with the GOP. Tom Davis (who, amazingly, was once chair of the NRCC) is wrong when he says it's not a bumper-sticker explanation. The GOP wants to end Medicare as we know it. It's simple, it's clear, and it's the truth — which is why Kathy Hochul was able to pound that message so relentlessly and effectively. You can try to explain away the Ryan plan at dissertation-length, but there is no explanation for that doesn't boil down to exactly what Democrats have said.
But you know, maybe I shouldn't have even written this piece in the first place. If Beltway observers want to help the Republican Party learn all the wrong lessons from the Ryan budget and the Hochul victory, I'm only too happy to let them. After all, as Paul Krugman notes, it was Beltway adulation that let Ryan stumble into this horror show in the first place. Keep up the good work!