Can This Man Save the GOP?

The passage of Obama’s health-care plan has Republicans on the run. Mark McKinnon on why Paul Ryan has the ideas and the attitude to make his party competitive this fall—and beyond.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

Calling all Republicans: Pay attention to Paul Ryan. You need him. You are in quicksand. And he’s got the policy and rhetorical ropes to save the party from being perceived as insular and irrelevant on the issues —most notably the implementation of Obamacare —which will drive the next couple of election cycles.

Regardless of whether you agree with the outcome of the health-care vote, you have to give President Obama credit for rolling the dice and gambling his office. He admitted back in the dark days of this debate that it could cost him his presidency. And while he may be right, it’s that kind of attitude and leadership that people respect in a president.

Ryan fans describe him as Jack Kemp on steroids.

I mentioned in a recent column that historically any president running for reelection has won with an approval rating above 46 percent. Well, Obama’s Wednesday morning was at 51. That bounce is likely to be short-lived, but it demonstrates the power of “Yes, We Can.” The indicator we always paid most attention to during the Bush campaigns was the perception of him as a “strong and decisive leader.” No matter what people thought about John Kerry or Al Gore, no one really saw them as strong or decisive. I don’t know what those numbers are for Obama, but I’ll bet his “strong and decisive” numbers just shot up by about 10 points.

Matthew Dallek: The GOP’s Dirty Health-Care SecretFor better or worse, Democrats own 100 percent of the stock in the new health-care law and they have begun their “let us tell you how great it is” message assault in earnest. They understand the 2010 congressional elections and Obama’s reelect in 2012 will hinge on this historic legislation. Right out of the gate, they’ve made it clear they intend to take the offensive and will try and paint Republicans as opposed to the popular features of the bill. Which is, of course, not true. Without granting primacy to the state over the individual, Republicans earnestly desire to achieve many of the same benefits through the utilization of competitive, free-market principles. But, right now they do not have the votes to reverse the course set by the new law. Right now, they’re in a political fight. And Republicans had better get on the stick.

Enter Paul Ryan.

Unlike many of his GOP colleagues, Ryan, a six-term House member from Wisconsin, is not a “just say no” Republican. A ranking member of the House Budget Committee and senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Ryan is a thoughtful, measured, policy-focused and positive force who has been a clear and consistent voice for Republicans on many issues—especially on health care, offering substantive, real and practical alternative solutions. Ryan was the GOP star of the show when Obama spoke to the Republican caucus and held the health-care summit.

Ryan fans describe him as Jack Kemp on steroids. He believes that unbridled individual initiative, innovation, and industriousness lead to competitive advantage and national greatness.

Ryan outlined bold and muscular policy prescriptions for America’s most pressing problems in his “Roadmap for America’s Future." Among the things his plan would do:

• Simplify the tax code: 10 percent of incomes up to $100,000 for joint filers and $50,000. for single filers; 25 percent on higher incomes (or you can continue to pay under current system). No deductions. • Eliminate taxes on interest, capital gains, dividends and death. • Preserve Medicare and Social Security benefits for anyone currently 55 or older, but replace Medicare benefits for people under 55 with a voucher that would average $11,000 a year that people could use to buy private insurance. • Achieve universal access to affordable health care with guaranteed refundable tax credits ($2,300 for individuals, $5,700 for families) for portable coverage in any state. • Allow workers 55 and under to invest more than one-third of Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts. • Raise the retirement age. Finally, we’ve got a politician bold enough to propose this obvious solution.

Here’s how Ryan characterizes the health-care debate:

“The true shame of this debate is that there are real problems in health care that need to be fixed. Almost a year ago, I introduced the Patients' Choice Act to fix what's broken in health care, without breaking what's working. I've spoken with Wisconsinites for years about patient-centered reforms that would make possible universal access to quality, affordable health care with the patient and the doctor—not the government or insurance companies —as the nucleus of the health-care market. These alternatives were ignored by Democratic leaders in Washington —and the concerns from Wisconsinites and an engaged American public were dismissed by Washington's political class.

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“The yearlong partisan crusade —right through its ugly conclusion —revealed that this debate was never about policy but rather a paternalistic ideology at odds with our historic commitment to individual liberty, limited government, and entrepreneurial dynamism. The proponents of this legislation reject an opportunity society and instead assume you are stuck in your station in life and the role of government is to help you cope with it.”

Ryan is liked and respected —not just by his colleagues but by Democrats and even the president. He is viewed as decent, thoughtful—and totally driven by substance. He is a fifth-generation Wisconsin native who is married with three children. He sleeps on a cot in his office and returns home to be with his family every Thursday.

The health-care bill may be signed, but the debate will continue as a central element of the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Obama has his troops energized; ironically, like George W. Bush, he could win reelection not with independents but by rallying the passions of his base. At the moment, Gallup polling suggest three in 10 Democrats are “enthusiastic” about the bill passing, while four in 10 Republicans are “angry”; in other words, both parties’ bases will be revved up. But Republicans need a “yes” man who can articulate a compelling positive message, agenda, and plan that is not partisan, devisive, angry or bitter.

People who know Paul Ryan say he will be president one day. If he keeps on cranking out alternative ideas and positive solutions for the Republicans, he could just end up as everyone’s favorite for the No. 2 slot in 2012.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.