Blue State Blues: Why Are Conservatives Targeting Paul Ryan?

Blue State Blues: Why Are Conservatives Targeting Paul Ryan?

This week’s indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a reminder of how Democrats and the media tear down any possible conservative contender for the presidency with frivolous lawsuits and baseless investigations. The trouble is that we conservatives do a fairly good job of tearing down potential leaders ourselves. The latest dubious target is Paul Ryan, who carried Tea Party and conservative hopes in the 2012 presidential election.

We have been tough on Ryan for his stance on immigration, taking him to task for working to enact legislation that would legalize millions of illegal aliens residing in the U.S. In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Ryan went further, saying that illegal aliens could also earn full citizenship under his proposal.

In his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea, Ryan recounts explaining to a pro-amnesty activist why he voted to defund President Obama’s enactment of the “DREAM Act” by executive fiat.

“I explained the reasons for my vote, which went straight to the Constitution and the rule of law,” Ryan writes, a stance he gets little credit for on the right. Ryan went on to say he supports the policy, but only via legislation.

However, Scottie Nell Hughes of the Tea Party News Network accuses Ryan of “insulting” conservatives by calling the 2013 shutdown over Obamacare a “suicide mission.” Conservatives, she says, “are in no mood to hear that our push for defunding Obamacare…had all the wisdom of a Japanese kamikaze.”

I happen to disagree with Ryan on the shutdown–I said so at the time–but how can his argument be considered out of bounds on the right? There were plenty of red-blooded conservatives saying that the shutdown strategy was a loser. (One of them was my Breitbart News colleague Ben Shapiro, who said it publicly on his morning radio show in L.A.) Even if Ryan’s imagery was too strident, this is a debate worth having.

Hughes is correct that Ryan has become more interested in compromise with Democrats after losing the 2012 election on Mitt Romney’s ticket. The shift is obvious.

For example, in late 2010, Ryan opposed the debt reduction plan of the Bowles-Simpson commission because it preserved spending on Obamacare. In late 2012, he agreed to a medium-term budget with his Democratic counterpart that preserved spending on Obamacare.

Yet it is hard to believe Hughes’s explanation that Ryan “didn’t have the stomach” for “the vicious attack ads, the smears from the New York Times editorial boards.”

I was at an event with Ryan once that was interrupted by Democrat protesters, railing about Social Security. He looked at me and smiled, telling me that he knew the protests meant his message was effective.

And when Ryan began work on his budget, it was too bold for many Republicans, who balked at its reforms of the entitlement system. And his open embrace of immigration reform, regardless of its merits, is evidence that Ryan is a politician who walks towards the fire.

Instead, Ryan says the 2012 election altered his perception of political reality. Before 2012, he presumed that the GOP would oust Obama after one term. Defeat prompted him to face the challenge of selling conservative principles beyond the party base. Uniquely among conservative politicians, Ryan has tried to balance the tasks of opposition and government, and has taken the case for conservative ideas to people who have never encountered them before.

Has he made mistakes? Of course. He was too cavalier about the Senate’s “comprehensive” immigration bill (though he ultimately opposed it). He was burned by his alliance with the divisive Luis Gutierrez. And there is much to pick apart in his book (which I will take up next week). 

Yet Ryan remains one of the best assets of the GOP and the conservative movement. In overdoing their criticism, his opponents risk marginalizing themselves.