Political Animal


November 19, 2012 10:36 AM Ryan’s New Catbird Seat

By Ed Kilgore

It’s fascinating (if somewhat predictable) to watch the rapidly diverging post-election prospects of the two members of the Republican presidential ticket. Mitt Romney is going to disappear from public view approximately ten minutes after his usefulness expires as a scapegoat for his party’s sins. But Paul Ryan is back in Washington, and back in the saddle again. This sentence from the New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer nicely describes his pivotal position with his party colleagues:

When Mr. Ryan returned to Capitol Hill last week, he was met with a standing ovation from his Republican colleagues, a bear hug from Mr. Boehner and the hope from conservatives that he would hold the line on taxes and other spending.

Yeah, Boehner’s hugging Ryan, all right, making it clear the Budget Committee Chairman is a key, and maybe the key, figure in the fiscal negotiations with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. Whatever Boehner decides to do, he wants Ryan’s finger-prints all over it. And the more feral of House Republicans want Ryan very close to Boehner’s side to keep the Speaker from selling out America’s priceless heritage of freedom and low top marginal tax rates.

Presumably Ryan will seek to reprise his role in earlier fiscal negotiations, re-establishing his MSM reputation as a “thoughtful” conservative “reformer” who always manages to be heavily involved in bipartisan discussions until the crucial point, when he invariably opposes compromise on one pretext or another. If, as sometimes appears to be the case, Boehner’s whole strategy in the fiscal talks is to kick the crucial cans down the road for a few more months, Ryan can perhaps remain suspended in his current position of ambiguity long enough to plot his own future course. He could, if he wishes, earn the enteral groveling admiration of MSM deficit hawks by giving ideological cover to a deal that might otherwise fail in the House. Or he could quietly shiv Boehner even as the permatanned Ohioan snuggles him so closely that Ryan will have to shower twice to expunge the smell of cigarettes and fear.

It’s certainly not the kind of catbird seat Ryan might have imagined occupying had Romney won and Republicans conquered the Senate: field-marshaling from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue a legislative blitzkrieg to enact his own radical budget blueprint on a party-line vote, with the repeal of Obamacare served as a tasty side dish and perhaps a Supreme Court appointment certain to repeal reproductive rights for dessert. But given the circumstances, Ryan’s in pretty good shape. His main quandry may well be to determine which short-term path will best serve his long-range goal of destroying or disabling much of the progressive policy legacy of the 20th century: an austerity-flavoted fiscal deal that can later be described as the first step back from the Road to Serfdom, or an ideological war leading into an old-white-voter-dominated midterm election and then 2016?

Watching Ryan closely in the months ahead will be profitable if not fun.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Bo on November 19, 2012 10:55 AM:

    I still maintain that Doogie Hauser Ryan may, in fact, have his eye on Boehner's job. If the GOPer's teabagger faction is really serious about gumming up the works, I can foresee Eric Cantor leading a palace revolt to clear the way for Ryan to ascend to the Speaker role. That would, indeed, gum up the works!

  • Ron Byers on November 19, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Kicking this can down the road for a few more months is not in the best interests of Republicans. The Bush tax cuts expire January 1. Dividends and interest will be taxed as ordinary income, long term capital gains will be taxed at 20%. Yep taxes on the middle class will go up, but taxes on the wall street crowd will go up dramatically. The budget office will report that our deficit has dropped below one trillion dollars and then we will have to deal with sequestration.

    While it might result in a short term recession and it wouldn't be the best approach if we had an honest partner in these negotiations, allowing us to all go over the "fiscal cliff" might be the best thing Democrats can do right now.

  • GregL190 on November 19, 2012 11:38 AM:

    "Or he could quietly shiv Boehner even as the permatanned Ohioan snuggles him so closely that Ryan will have to shower twice to expunge the smell of cigarettes and fear."

    Ed, who do you think you are; TBogg? Awesome writing, my friend. Keep it up.

  • Peter C on November 19, 2012 11:52 AM:

    Ryan is certainly still dangerous. Our best way to neutralize him is to brand him a 'loser'. Obviously, the campaign knew he was a loser because they sequestered him in deep-red states like Georgia. If they thought he had real popularity, they'd have sent him to the swing-states.

  • T2 on November 19, 2012 11:56 AM:

    Since the Conservative party exists in a world of delusion, I can see why they'd welcome Ryan back as if he'd won. But in the rest of the world, the one that deals in reality, I think Ryan's stock took a pretty good hit. Firstly, the Media jumped on his lie-filled Convention speech, which was surprising given the kid gloves they'd been using on him.
    Then his performance on the trail was less than inspiring, and again drew less-than-favorable Media reviews, with his bald-faced lies getting front page attention. Ryan's ideas were dumped by Romney the second he got on the ticket, but not soon enough for Medicare and Social Security recipients to learn what RyanCare means for them (nothing good).
    But it was his deer-in-the-headlights Fail against Joe Biden in the VP debate that will stick with the average American living in the Non-Delusion world. He was out of his league and looked it.

  • James E. Powell on November 19, 2012 12:39 PM:

    Ryan will never be anything more than he already was. He isn't popular enough to win a state-wide election in his own state. His identity will forever be the man who advocated harsh, unpopular policies that were a major reason why his party lost a winnable national election. Unlike Romney, they won't disown him. But they are never going to put him out front again.

  • Ronald on November 19, 2012 12:58 PM:

    @James Powell-
    Do the words 'President Herman Cain' have a nice ring?
    How about any of the other wonderful people the Republicans floated as potential nominees? Bachman? Ron Paul??
    Compared to them, Ryan seems, well, almost normal.

    My personal guess is that Ryan is going to do what he can to hold the Right Wing line while in the house to prepare a run in '16 by blaming the Democrats when the House tries to drive the United States off the financial road once again (see: debt ceiling)

    Ryan was within a few points of tasting that power...can't think that he'll just want to give that up and go back to being plain old Rep. Ryan.

  • punaise on November 19, 2012 12:59 PM:

    @GregL190: +

    Ed, that's a strong candidate for best line of the week.

  • c u n d gulag on November 19, 2012 1:31 PM:

    The MSM loves them some Ryan. And will continue to, unless the Democrats can do something about it.

    The Democrats need to change the meme about him as a "serious, Conservative, policy wonk," and treat Ryan like a joke. Attach a meme to him that he's Conservative, alright - just not serious, and no wonk. Republicans HATE Joe Biden, they claim he's a joke.
    And what did Joe do?a
    Joe took Paulie's lunch money, bitch-slapped him, and gave him a wedgie his nuts will never recover from.

    Also, point out that a wonk who can't do the math, ain't no wonk. The Democrats need to keep pushing him to do math. And he either won't - or can't, because it'll scare people.

    Having said that, the Democrats are awful at doing things like that - and the Republicans are great at doing that. So, I expect they'll treat Ryan with more respect than he deserves.

  • Zinsky on November 19, 2012 1:42 PM:

    Ryan should be pelted with eggs, rotten tomatoes and other garbage at every public event. Make sure he is covered in garbage whenever he sets foot in public. The man is human garbage and needs to be treated as such!

  • Peter Principle on November 19, 2012 4:00 PM:

    It is amazing how quickly the stench wore off. But unless Ryan has presidential mind control powers to match his Olympic-level Marathon running skills, the top marginal rate IS going to go back to Clinton-era levels, either at the end of the year or a few months later. And one suspects that at that point the thrill is going to be gone for the GOP base -- no matter how much Ryan tries to disavow the result.

  • Doug on November 19, 2012 4:06 PM:

    Bo, in my opinion, that's exactly what Boehner has been afraid of since before the debt ceiling fiasco occurred.
    The thing is though, now Ryan has been shown to the public, so to speak, and the public didn't like what they saw. The Beltway insiders may still act like smitten teenagers, but that doesn't cut much ice OUTSIDE their little cocktail party circuit. Any power Ryan has now is firmly based on his Teabag credentials and there are signs that Grover's iron control over the Republican caucus may be slipping. One can only hope, anyway.
    Meanwhile, Boehner lets Ryan return to the Budget Committee and lets Ryan be the face of Teabag Republicanism. Boehner is NOT a Tbagger, he's an old-fashioned, mendacious Republican, but he CAN understand that what failed this year WASN'T "conservatism", it was Teabaggery; ie, the hypocrisy, racism, and suicidal defense of the indefensible (raising taxes on the rich). Boehner will play that game if necessary, but he's NOT a believer; all Boehner wants is to retain the SPeakership.
    So he's quite willing to let Ryan be the captain of the "RMS Teabag" as it heads straight into that field of ice known as "political reality"...

  • yellowdog on November 19, 2012 8:56 PM:


    Great line: "a wonk who can't do the math ain't no wonk" Fits Ryan perfectly. All those AARP members who booed him in New Orleans? They got the picture about this guy in about two minutes... If Ryan ain't a wonk, he's a scam artist. Their considered opinion? Get off my lawn, kid, and run hock your stuff on somebody else's block.

  • How can a guy who lies about math lead budget negotiations? on November 20, 2012 9:58 AM:

    How can a guy who lies about math lead budget negotiations?