Yeah, I'm rolling my eyes too at Ryan's faux-earnest answer. I bet he's got a pretty good idea about what he wants to do in 2016. But what he really thinks about 2016 isn't the most interesting question about Paul Ryan. Instead, it's how in the world he plans to propose a budget that will achieve balance within 10 years—and whether he'll be honest about the fact that doing so without raising taxes will require cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits for people who are 55 and older.
That's not just me talking—that's what Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), one of Ryan's House Republican colleagues, says—and he's not happy.
I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.Maybe Ryan will come up with some new magic asterisk to obscure the reality of the GOP budget, but if they actually do a halfway honest job of keeping their balanced budget promise, the document they produce will make what they did in 2011 look like child's play. Then they could at least claim they weren't actually going after grandma—they were just going after people who aspired to become a grandma (or grandpa). But this time, they won't be able to offer that fudge and are instead promising to deliver the reddest of red meats to the enemies of social insurance.
If that's what they end up doing, Democrats should be able to clobber Republicans. Maybe Ryan will be able to win the 2016 nomination, but he'd be toast in the general election. Remember, Romney did better with older voters—who are overwhelmingly white—in 2012 than Bush did in 2004 despite doing worse overall. That was partly a result of anti-Obama attitudes among older whites, but it also reflected a combination of Obama's failure to exploit the 2011 Ryan budget and the fact that Romney was religious about saying that under no circumstance would he touch benefits for anyone over the age of 55.
Now, if they follow through with the budget they promised, not only will Republicans not have Obama to give them a boost with older whites, they won't be able to say their plans spare those 55 and older. Each of those developments would be bad enough on their own, but as long as Democrats don't go crazy in pursuit of a Grand Bargain, Republicans are in the process of dealing themselves a pretty brutal double whammy.
The funniest part of this is that we're not even talking about the voters Republican actually need to learn how to win. They continue to dig themselves in an even deeper hole with Latinos, African-Americans, other non-white voters, and women, especially single women. That's what they really need to focus on. Instead, they're busily figuring out how to piss off the most loyal age demographic in their coalition.
Just about the only group they seem to be holding onto are evangelical white Christians, 78 percent of whom backed Romney in 2012. But even though they grew from 23 percent of the electorate in 2004 to 26 percent in 2012, they do not a majority make. Republicans are in deep trouble and heading the wrong way. In other words, it's fun times.