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03.10.13

GOP Meltdown: Paul Ryan Doubles Down On His Losing Southern Strategy

Paul Ryan’s mistaken plan to cut benefits for older Americans will alienate one of the last groups that’s stayed loyal to his party, writes Lloyd Green.

After years of drifting apart, the jobs report and the stock market aligned this week, at least momentarily, as unemployment fell to the lowest level in over four years while the Dow and the S&P 500 continued to climb. We’re hardly out of the woods— the workforce participation rate remains stuck in neutral, overall growth remains sluggish, and worker income is still lagging behind the stock market gains—but there are signs of hope.

Yet some things don’t change. As the sputtering economy tries to get into gear, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan keeps talking about depriving hard working-taxpaying Americans of their retirement benefits, while offering nothing in return. This is the strategy that failed Mitt Romney and Ryan in November, and that alienates not just senior citizens, but voters over 45 — one of the few groups that’s so far remained reliably right-leaning as Asians, Hispanics, upscale Episcopalians, graduate degree holders and others have abandoned the shrinking GOP tent.

If the President’s electoral playbook called for uniting the rich and poor and treating the middle class as an afterthought, the Congressman has a more direct, if less palatable, approach:  he simply attacks the middle class, by trying to gut their earned entitlement programs.

Harping on social issues and bashing the 47 percent, along with Mitt Romney’s antipathy on the auto bailout, is why Republicans got their clocks cleaned in the industrial Midwest last November, eking out just a 5-point plurality among non-college grad white voters in the Great Lakes (a group they won by 19 points nationally).

Apparently, the failed vice presidential candidate has not internalized these lessons. Instead, Ryan & Co. seems to be doubling down on 2012’s failed bet, and treating working Americans as little more than moochers. A year ago, Candidate Ryan called for voucher care instead of Medicare for Americans who were then 55 and under.  Now, he is pressing the idea of setting the cut-off at 56 in an effort to force more Americans off of Medicare.


Ryan & Co. seems to be doubling down on 2012’s failed bet, and treating working Americans as little more than moochers.

Polling data consistently show that voters disapprove of vouchers for seniors, and Ryan’s gambit may have even cost the Republicans Florida. 

It’s no surprise, then, that the few standing members of the ever-dwindling cohort of centrist House Republicans are furious with Ryan’s latest suggestion.

Tenaciously, Ryan continues to press ahead. As an unidentified member told The Hill, the “big problem was that a lot of people have been telling people that it’s 55 and that’s the number . . . And if you change it, it’s going to make us look like [liars].”

The sole source of income for most Americans now turning 65 is their monthly Social Security check, which averages a little more than $1,200 and that is before paying $100 a month for Medicare Plan B.

The origins of Ryanism trace back to John C. Calhoun’s South and Herbert Hoover’s America—and that is a losing coalition. Indeed, for a southern-based party like the current iteration of the Republican Party to regain traction, it must reach out to and make inroads with the Northern working class. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes demonstrated that this task was doable. And yet, the current crop of Republicans just does not seem to get it. When the party of the South decides to go it alone, it fails.

Single women now rival white evangelicals as a voting bloc, and the former – which preferred Obama to Romney by a staggering two-to-one margin—is just not cottoning to the Republicans’ message on personal autonomy or anything else. With childrearing and marriage increasingly distinct and recent studies showing that the life expectancies of subgroups of women are declining regionally, even as life expectancy on the whole is rising, a call to replace a long-established safety net with faux personal responsibility is not a winning message.

Religion also has lost traction at the lower end of the income spectrum, particularly outside of the South. Rather, regular worship is now the province of married upper-income Americans, be they Republicans or Democrats. SMU families and their Scarsdale counterparts have more in common than either may realize.

If the Republicans stay on their present course, the fate of the old Democratic Party awaits them.
Between 1860 and 1932, the Democrats were a Southern-based party that managed to elect only two presidents in 18 elections.

And in fact, Ryan the Midwesterner does seem to look to the South.  He supported relief for the victims of Katrina, but opposed aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At least on disaster funding, the Congressman can whistle Dixie.
The question for the Republican Party is whether it has the will to change. After losing five straight elections to FDR's New Deal Coalition, the Republicans got their act together.  Will history repeat itself? 

One thing is for sure: Alienating your base when you need every vote that you can get is not smart politics.