Despite what you might read on Breitbart.com, not only is Paul Ryan a conservative, he is arguably the most important conservative of the 21st Century.
In the recent past, this wouldn’t really be all that controversial of a statement. But with the Wisconsin congressman in the spotlight as the leading contender to become the next House Speaker, some on the right have taken the opportunity to trash Ryan as a Republican-In-Name-Only, often abbreviated as RINO!!!!!
The leader of the anti-Ryan movement has been Breitbart News. One reporter for the supposedly conservative news site has written more than a dozen misleading anti-Ryan opinion pieces masquerading as news articles since Oct. 9.
Among the concerns these critics raise is Ryan’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his votes to pass George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D program and the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).
But all of this is background noise to their real concern: Ryan’s support for immigration reform that would secure the border but provide a pathway to legalization for most of the illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States.
A segment of the right has become immigration absolutists. To them, immigration isn’t just an important issue, it’s the only issue. Unless you essentially support building a moat on the border with alligators and deporting every illegal immigrant in the country, you’re a RINO — or worse.
That helps explain the strange embrace of Donald Trump as a conservative’s conservative by what you might call the “Breitbart right.” As Ann Coulter, the intellectual leader of the immigration absolutists, quipped on Twitter after Trump released his immigration plan: “I don’t care if @realDonaldTrump wants to perform abortions in White House after this immigration policy paper.”
On planet Earth, if you think of Trump as a conservative and Ryan as a RINO, you either have no understanding of what conservatism is or have become so obsessed with immigration you can no longer see clearly.
As the National Journal has noted, Ryan would be the most conservative House Speaker of the modern era. That doesn’t mean he is the most conservative person in Congress. He’s not. But he holds a claim to a far grander title: the most important conservative of this century.
You don’t have to agree with Ryan’s vote for TARP (as I do) or his vote for Medicare Part D (as I don’t) to believe a strong case can be made that no conservative has been as important as Ryan during this nascent century. What makes Ryan so important is his effort to get the Republican Party to embrace entitlement reform.
The need for serious entitlement reform is undeniable. It is very arguably America’s top domestic problem. The United States government has in excess of $80 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities on the books. In just a decade, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest payments on America’s debt obligations are projected to eat up the the entirety of America’s revenue stream, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. If America doesn’t change course and make these entitlement programs sustainable, it faces potential economic catastrophe.
The problem is pushing Medicare and Social Security reform have historically been political losers — or at least so said the conventional wisdom. Into that breach came Ryan, who made the case that the GOP must lead on the issue for the good of the country. After much effort, he ultimately got the overwhelming majority of House Republicans to go on record and support his entitlement-reforming budget plan — in fact, he got most House Republicans to vote for his various budget proposals on more than one occasion. By 2012, in large part due to Ryan’s leadership, it became a standard Republican position to champion entitlement reform, culminating with the fact that Romney selected Mr. Entitlement Reform himself to be on the presidential ticket.
Fast-forward to this election cycle and some in the Republican Party are trying to undo Ryan’s herculean and courageous efforts to convince the public on the need for entitlement reform. Presidential contenders Mike Huckabee and Trump, for instance, are pandering to the electorate by saying such reform is not necessary. And when Trump says jump, Breitbart News replies in unison: “How high, sir?”
“Ryan’s decision to lead with a plan to cut Medicare spending — cuts pushed outside of the budget window — at a time when they had no chance of enactment, was seen by many as major strategic blunder,” Breitbart’s Julie Hahn wrote in one of her anti-Ryan hit pieces. “His budget did not balance and provided an easy target for Democrats.”
Yes, Ryan was irresponsible in pushing entitlement reform because it’s a political loser — and also irresponsible for not advocating a plan with more draconian budget cuts. Logical coherence, however, is of little concern when your sole goal is to gut Ryan any way you can because you believe he will pursue an immigration policy as House Speaker short of mass deportation.
The problem for Breitbart and their fans is that most Republican members of Congress — and Republicans nationally — are closer to Paul Ryan on immigration than they are to Ann Coulter. Which is why, despite Breitbart’s anti-Ryan editorial temper tantrum, Ryan is likely to be elected the next Speaker of the House this week.
That’s should be great news for the Republican Party, but only if Ryan is empowered to lead. If instead Ryan’s ascension intensifies the efforts of renegade “conservatives” to tarnish his reputation and ultimately destroy one of the brightest stars in the Republican firmament, the right may ultimately view this moment as a major blunder.