Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Will Paul Ryan Be Romney Redux?

He’s a favorite of Republicans, but Democrats may be secretly cheering for him as well.

By - Sep 24th, 2013 10:03 am
U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan has planned upcoming trips to Iowa and New Hampshire in what looks like an early effort to campaign for president in 2016. And why not? A recent CNN poll of Republicans and independents found 17 percent favored Chris Christie as the Republican choice in 2016, but Ryan was a close second, at 16 percent.

Ryan is certainly impressive: good looking, articulate, physically fit and cool under fire. And, of course, far more conservative than Christie and thus more likely to win in Republican primaries. But he might be as weak a general election candidate as Mitt Romney.

Good campaigns tell a good story. Romney’s narrative was problematic. The fact that he was a fabulously wealthy guy calling for tax cuts he would disproportionately benefit from, while favoring reductions in Medicare and the safety net for average folks, made him a difficult candidate to sell.

But Ryan is a far more aggressive proponent of the same things. (Indeed, Romney’s campaign borrowed heavily from Ryan.) And last week, Ryan again showed his true colors, voting with 217 other House Republicans to cut food stamp benefits or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The measure barely passed (it was opposed by every Democrat and 15 Republicans), and is sure to be rejected by the Senate.

In the midst of a still-bad economy with high unemployment, when some have been looking for jobs for years, this law would cut off SNAP benefits after just three months. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would remove nearly four million people from SNAP in its first year and about three million a year after that.

Ryan called food stamps an example of turning the safety net into “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” But the average food stamp benefits are just over $1,600 yearly or $4.45 a day. And most of the SNAP beneficiaries are children, the elderly or the disabled, with the remainder mostly adults with children. The law would be a disaster for cities like Milwaukee, where almost 30 percent of people live in poverty, and food stamps are a lifeline.

Ryan is not as rich as Romney, but his net worth is about $5 million, which probably puts the congressman among the top 2 percent of Americans. And unlike Romney, who famously grew his wealth as a venture capitalist, and who could claim he knew how to grow a business, Ryan’s riches come from marrying a wealthy woman.  That could be as tough a story to sell as Romney’s.

Yes, Romney often seemed inauthentic and gaffe-prone. But Ryan, in a memorable moment,  was caught drinking bottles of $350 wine at a swanky DC restaurant in 2011, offering a striking contradiction to his regular guy image. And Ryan’s speech at the Republican convention was assailed for the many whoopers it included. As a Fox commentator, no less, phrased it, the speech “was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”

As I’ve written before, there is little evidence Ryan helped the Romney ticket — even in Wisconsin. Yet Wisconsin Republicans prefer him for president to Scott Walker, a recent poll showed. And as a congressman, Ryan will likely have more free time to campaign than a governor busy running a state and trying to get reelected.

It may be difficult for Walker, coming from the same state, to get any traction if Ryan continues to be seen as one of the front runners.

Yet Walker’s campaign story hold ups far better than Ryan’s. When Walker calls for cuts in government benefits, he does so as an average taxpayer who lives on the wages he makes and owns a modest home in Wauwatosa. Walker is just as conservative as Ryan, and would have great appeal for conservatives, but he has more ability to move to the center as a presidential candidate (as he did in winning the 2010 race for governor and the 2012 recall race). Ryan has boxed himself in as the savant of GOP cost-cutting, with his repeated plans to slash the safety net. And we’ve already seen how that approach works in a presidential race.

The Purity of Tim Cullen 

Groucho Marx had one of the great lines about movie actress Doris Day: “I’ve been around so long I can remember Doris Day before she was a virgin.”

I was reminded of that line when reading Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen’s comments while announcing his retirement. He thundered a condemnation of today’s politics:  “I have concluded that we cannot look to Washington or Madison to focus on the needs of the powerless. Washington and Madison care all too much about the moneyed and powerful.”

Old timers, however, will remember there was a time when Cullen, as majority leader of the senate from 1983 -1987, was considered the “bagman” who took care of campaign contributions flowing from the moneyed and the powerful, particularly lobbyists.

In a September 1994 story for Milwaukee Magazine on the decline of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party, I wrote this: “Democrats traced the corruption of the state Senate to the reign of Tim Cullen, majority leader of the senate from 1983-’87. ‘It was a the School of Caligula,” one ranking Dem said. “He turned the state budget process into an auction.”

Said another prominent Dem: “He turned the Senate into something that was about process, raising money and special interests. By the time (state Sen. David) Helbach took over, he couldn’t turn it around.”

Cullen’s name came up during the lobbying scandal of 1988 that centered around lobbyist Gary Goyke and resulted in the successful prosecution of several legislators. There was evidence that one of the businesses Goyke lobbied for had provided a free car rental for Cullen. Lobbyists complained that Goyke built his business through his association with Cullen, who in turn put the blame on Goyke, complaining “he peddled my name.”

In his second turn as a legislator, Cullen went the Doris Day route and became newly virginal. Whatever the historic contradiction, he stood out as a proponent of compromise in an age of nasty partisanship.

Dennis Smith Affair Again

As one reader noted to me, my story regarding the affair between former state health Secretary Dennis Smith and his chief legal counsel Mary Spear was incomplete. I described the cozy background to her hiring by Smith: she was a friend he’d known since they were children, she had no job at the time, and it looks like no one else was considered for the job. Smith could not have done that under the old state law, because the department attorney positions at the state were civil service appointments. However,  Gov. Walker pushed the legislature to make the attorney positions political appointees. If he hadn’t, Walker would still have Dennis Smith serving as health secretary.

Categories: Murphy's Law

9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Will Paul Ryan Be Romney Redux?”

  1. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    The ticket will be Paul/Cruz it willt ake 2/3 GOP, 1/3 Dems and 60% of indies. Everyone is sick of the war mongers that make billions from thes ethings. No Bush, No Hillary.

  2. Patty says:

    I’d love to see Elizabeth Warren run and if she does, I’d love to see her in a debate with Paul Ryan. She’d wipe the floor with him. Unfortunately the powers that be will probably pass her by for Hillary. What a shame.

  3. Todd Spangler says:

    Chris Christie has populist appeal that extends well into the Democratic ranks but has lost favor among conservatives because of his good sense in combating such idiocy as the misguided attempts to brainwash gays into believing they’re straight. Look for the GOP to probably go down in flames if they don’t select a reasonably moderate candidate to oppose the likely Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.

    OTOH, at least a few moderates, probably men more than women, despise Mrs. Clinton to such an extent because of her insincerity (similar to her husband’s) and battle-axe personality that there is no chance of voting for her. I think she has a polarizing quality similar to that of Rush Limbaugh or George W Bush that I don’t see in most candidates. That’s just my perspective, and admittedly, people with personalities like this often have the ability to win elections, anyway.

  4. tim haering says:

    Nice analysis on Ryan. But I think you under-estimate Mini Mitt’s skill and ability to tack centrist. He could easily do an inverse Clinton, listing starboard to win the primary, then even-keeling the general. I don’t expect this to happen, as Ryan is a hunter, not a warrior, and presidential elections require a warrior. Ryan will alternately stalk the woods and wait in his tree stand until Boehner retires.

  5. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Rayn is a good man, a true technocrat who understands the budget and the problems, but whether he can fly around the country and raise money is questionable. He should be budget director in a Paul/Cruz ticket that would wipe the floor with war mongering Hillary and company.
    as far as moderates, Dole, McCain and Romeny have lost badly, we do not need any more of those.

  6. Todd Spangler says:

    I just saw some video of recent remarks by Hillary Clinton, as well as the Piers Morgan interview with her husband, and probably need to retract much of my characterization of Mrs. Clinton as a battle-axe; in fact, I would probably even be open to voting for her, which probably just shows that voters are notoriously fickle, if nothing else.

    I have no idea who is going to eventually emerge as the Republican nominee in 2016 and think it says much about the weak leadership of our current chief executive that this is such a hot topic of conversation. Paul Ryan isn’t a perfect candidate but is a superstar compared to a buffoon like Ted Cruz from my perspective, which is probably more or less in the middle of all this ideology. Ryan is very well respected by his colleagues and would continue to rise in the House Republican leadership if he stays in that legislative body. I don’t know if he is presidential material and don’t know if Scott Walker is really, either. Much of the ability to win politically comes down to personality, and what works well at the state level often fails on the national stage (Rick Perry would be a excellent example). To me, the next presidential campaign is so far away I think it is virtually impossible to predict at this point how things will actually shape up.

  7. Bruce Thompson says:

    It is probably way to early to try to handicap the next presidential election (and right now I am just hoping that the country survives October) but I would think that explaining Wisconsin’s job performance would be a challenge for Walker.

  8. STACY MOSS says:

    Paul Ryan good looking?

    To me, he has a that gooney thing going.

  9. Bill Kurtz says:

    Bruce, just how did Scott Walker move to the center?
    And your comparison to Romney seems to say that people won’t accept a rich person who would benefit personally from tax/benefit cuts, but are more tolerant of an errand boy for the rich. (How many Walker fans would support a Koch brother as governor?)

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