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Memo to Republicans -- The Ryan Medicare Plan Needs a Clearer and More Populist Defense

Five and a half weeks after House Republicans passed their budget, Democrats and liberal pundits have decided it is political kryptonite that will fatally weaken the GOP.

Their evidence is Tuesday's special election in New York's 26th district, where Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated Republican Jane Corwin for a vacant congressional seat. This is not just any congressional district, but one carried by George W. Bush and John McCain in the last two presidential elections, and one represented for 58 years by a Republican.

Liberals can barely contain their glee. MSNBC's Ed Schultz said the outcome left "Republicans scrambling" while the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne said "it will petrify" Republicans. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) said it proved "Democrats have the keys to drive the budget debate and play offense in 2012."

Most, but not all, of this is wishful thinking. Ms. Hochul won a plurality (47%) of the votes, not a majority, getting only one percentage point more than Barack Obama as he was losing the district in 2008. Not exactly a compelling performance.

Democrats won only because a third-party candidate—self-proclaimed tea partier Jack Davis—spent a reported $3 million of his own money. Absent Mr. Davis as a spoiler—he got 9% of the vote—Democrats would never have made a serious bid for this district, nor won if they did. Ironically, Mr. Davis ran for the same seat in the last three elections as a Democrat. This year he ran as a populist conservative.

Still the question remains: Did the Medicare reforms proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and supported by Ms. Corwin play a role in the outcome? The answer is yes, though not with the blunt force and trauma some Democrats are claiming.

Karl Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor and author of "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions, 2010). To continue reading his column about Medicare and the Republican strategy in The Wall Street Journal, click here.

Karl Rove joined Fox News Channel (FNC) as a political contributor in February 2008. He also currently serves as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.