Political Animal


March 25, 2013 5:05 PM The New Stockman?

By Ed Kilgore

Jonathan Chait looked a little more closely than I did at Jonathan Martin’s Politico piece this morning on Paul Ryan’s recent loss of cool-kid status, and found something interesting that I missed. Martin reports Ryan’s supporters as fretting over his “green eyeshade” reputation, and Chait quite accurately reports that this label is one strongly deplored by anyone coming up in the Jack Kemp/supply-side faction like Ryan did.

But this very reputation, of course, is what made Ryan a Very Serious Person in the eyes of deficit hawks and Beltway pundits generally, and greatly facilitated his rise up the greasy pole of congressional Republican politics. So if he now wants to do something other than chairing the Budget Committee (say, run for president), he will have to undertake what Chait calls an “un-rebranding:”

Martin’s piece does a nice job of capturing Ryan’s political dilemma. Ryan not only rebranded himself, he rebranded himself too well. The tea-party debt-hysteria message now strikes some Republican honchos as a loser. They want a more “optimistic” message.
So now Ryan has to, essentially, un-re-brand himself. His supporters plead that he is not “merely” a green eyeshade Republican. Stripped of the euphemism, they’re saying, Paul Ryan isn’t merely an advocate of fiscal responsibility, he is also … the exact opposite of one.

If Chait’s right, Ryan has fallen into the same trap as his predecessor as a celebrity conservative budget maven, David Stockman, who was a rabid supply-sider before becoming Ronald Reagan’s budget director and getting deficit fever. When it became apparent to Stockman that his fellow conservatives wanted promiscuous tax cuts without having the guts to insist on the spending cuts needed to pay for them, he raised alarms, and before long was Mr. Nobody in Republican politics.

It’s not clear that Ryan or his fans have figured a way out of the trap that snared Stockman, but now as then, it’s a trap the entire conservative movement and the Republican Party keep setting for themselves.

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.


  • max on March 25, 2013 5:30 PM:

    When it became apparent to Stockman that his fellow conservatives wanted promiscuous tax cuts without having the guts to insist on the spending cuts needed to pay for them, he raised alarms, and before long was Mr. Nobody in Republican politics.

    Except, as far as I have ever seen, Stockman was sincere. Ryan of Wisconsin is sincere about wanting to gut Social Security and Medicare and cut taxes, but I don't think he cares about the deficit at all, so dumping the deficit concerns is not going to be a problem for him.

    Only certain rich people and their pet pundits care about the deficit during bad times, and the rest of time, the deficit hawks are few and far between. (Stockman was a rare bird in that sense.) If the Reagan administration wasn't proof enough, the Bush administration surely would be.

    ['Doesn't matter; the guy's a stiff.']

  • kindness on March 25, 2013 5:39 PM:

    Ryan figured out how not to be Stockman. That was easy. Just give the rich all the money & use the deficit so as to gut the Social Programs the right has hated since 1929.

  • hells littlest angel on March 25, 2013 5:39 PM:

    Does Ryan wear his green eyeshade backwards when he lifts weights?

  • Mimikatz on March 25, 2013 6:32 PM:

    I agree withnMax. Stockman was pretty sincere--he even wrote a long mea culpa. Ryan is an opportunist who glommed onto deficit reduction as a then-popular vehicle for his preferred objective, dismantling SS and Medicare to provide for ever larger breaks for the already very rich. He is never going to do what Stockman did because he is so full of himself.

  • N.Wells on March 25, 2013 7:44 PM:

    Given that Ryan has ALWAYS been the opposite of the epitome of fiscal responsibility, rebranding shouldn't be difficult, and I'd be happy to help.

  • paul on March 26, 2013 10:14 AM:

    Ryan has never actually been a green eyeshade type. His budgets have always been mendacious garbage. But the big thing is that he lost. And rather than blame the loss on, y'know, the fact that nothing in modern right-wing ideology is popular with a majority of americans, much better for the GOP to blame the supposed wonkery.

    Otherwise they might have to actually change something.

  • jkl;"s asdf on March 26, 2013 10:43 PM:

    best comment in the blogosphere:

    "As I watched the campaign unfold I gradually came to believe that Romney and to a greater degree, Ryan were both pathological liars. They lied about big things. They lied about small things. They lied about things that they didn't even have to lie about and when confronted with the lie...they lied about lying.
    It's never a good sign when Ron Paul can run a site devoted to covering your lies. The last time I looked he had listed 613 Romney/Ryan lies in a 32 week period. Of course, I think it's a natural extension of just how much the republican party as a whole has embraced lying. From Kyl's "not intended to be a factual statement" to republicans voting against VAWA and then claiming they supported it....the whole party is based on lies now. They lied us into the Iraq war and now they lie about Bush ever having any part in the mess he handed to Obama. When a party loses its core values they deserve to cease to exist.''