Monday, January 11, 2016

Can Paul Ryan Save the GOP From Itself?

As regular readers know, I do not hold House Speaker Paul Ryan in high regard.  He's a poster boy for the Republican Party's reverse Robin Hood policies that take from the poor and give to the wealthy.  What's frightening, however, is that in today's lunatic alternate universe in which the GOP base resides, Ryan in relative terms comes across as sane and almost principled.  The key words being, of course, "in relative terms" and "almost."  Despite such caveats, Ryan seems to be trying to prevent the GOP sliding completely into crazy land and Trumpist policies.   Personally, I think that the cancer has already metastasized too far for the GOP to be saved.  Moreover, I don't buy Paul Ryan's claimed conversion on social safety net issues. A piece in The Daily Beast ponders whether Ryan's apparent efforts are genuine and whether or not they will be futile.  Here are highlights:

In ways large and small, newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan seems to be doing his best to prevent his fellow Republicans from throwing themselves and their party into an abyss they could never climb out of. 

In a cycle when the Republican presidential field has become mired in the nativist, the trivial, and the occasionally cruel, Ryan, along with Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, sat six presidential candidates down in Columbia, S.C., Saturday to talk about the struggles of poor Americans and ways to lift them people out of poverty.

Twelve hours before the Ryan event began in Columbia, Donald Trump had rallied 6,000 further north in Rock Hill, S.C. When a 56-year-old Muslim woman stood silently behind Trump in protest, he stopped his event as security threw her out, to the roar of the crowd. 

Unlike the fact-free frenzy that the Trump phenomenon has become, complete with policy proposals like “We’ll have more of everything,” the Ryan-Scott forum was an attempt to focus on a critical issue without easy answers. It will need Democrats and Republicans alike to solve the problem, the kind the Ryan has said he’ll make the focus of his agenda as Speaker.

The event was named after the late Jack Kemp, Ryan’s mentor, who traveled extensively throughout inner cities during his time in the House of Representatives to meet with people in poverty, particular African Americans, and push Republicans to produce policies that could give them a way out.  

“In this country, the condition of your birth does not determine your outcome in life,” Ryan said. “But if it is not true for everybody, then it’s really not true at all.”

It’s a perspective some Democrats approach with skepticism from Ryan, pointing to the federal budget blueprint Ryan offered in 2012 as evidence that Ryan is ready to gut Medicare, Social Security, and crucial safety net programs for the poorest Americans.

But Ryan’s epiphany is not his party’s. While candidates like Ben Carson and Marco Rubio talk about their own families’ struggles, frontrunner Donald Trump has largely ignored the issue, aside from offering his opinion that wages are too high. Whether Ryan can bring his party along on his crusade with him is an open question, particularly in a year when Trump’s rabid populism and personal insults, not civil conversations about poverty, is the fuel for the fire with the GOP base. 

Whether Republicans as a party can, or even want to, address the needs of poor Americans is a pivotal question for many in the GOP, and one many believe will decide the long-term viability of the party.   

“Our leading candidate has a 80 percent disapproval rating with Hispanics, with a growth potential,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Daily Beast. “But I think Paul Ryan embracing Jack Kemp is a good thing. The party of Jack Kemp needs to reemerge, you have to have a heart and a brain.”

John Lettieri, the co-founder of the Economic Innovation Group, a nonpartisan think tank that co-sponsored the event, said the forum had revealed two possible paths for the GOP.

“There are leaders within the party who are working aggressively to reframe the way voters consider Republicans when they think about the question that really cost Mitt Romney, ‘Who cares about people like you?’” Littieri said. “You have those people like Ryan, Bush, Rubio, Kasich—they are not going to give up their party without a fight.” 

 Although Ryan won wide praise at the forum, he’s already gotten calls for a primary challenger from grassroots conservatives who says he’s just another version of former House Speaker John Boehner, a deal-maker who many derided as insufficiently conservative.

As noted many times before, the GOP claims to be the party of "Christian values," yet all one sees on display id hatred towards others, efforts to slash the social safety not, and the praise of greed and vulure capitalism as embodied in Donald Trump.  To be a Republican nowadays, if one is Christian, it is essential that one be a modern day Pharisee. 

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