To the consternation of Roger L. Simon, whose guest I was on Pjtv on Election Night 2008, I proclaimed that, in the wake of Democratic victories that night, Rush Limbaugh was the interim leader of the GOP. While I might have missed the mark a bit, the talk show host did offer a robust defense of conservatism at CPAC the following February at a time when many of us were despondent and liberal pundits were proclaiming the death of conservatism. The Tea Party had just been born. And Sarah Palin seemed content to remain in Alaska, governing the Last Frontier.
Well, the mainstream media may have declared that accomplished reformer and charismatic conservative the leader of the GOP, but while many on the right respected her, few acknowledge her at Reagan’s heir. Then-RNC chairman Michael Steele never really gained a following with the rank-and-file (it’s fun to speculate how much better the GOP would have done last fall had we had a man with the political acumen and Washington experience of Haley Barbour helming the RNC in the early Obama years). The Republican congressional leaders, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, remain focused on running their respective chambers than aspiring to national leadership.
The media seem eager to declare Donald Trump, currently the most prominent Obama critic, as the GOP leader—without bothering to ask whether his political platform aligns with that of rank-and-file Republicans. They do seem to forget that since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has been built on a set of principles, of small government, personal freedom and a robust national defense, principles of which (alack!) all too many GOP leaders have lost sight.
Until this month. When, after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released the Republican budget plan, left-of-center pundit Jacob Weisberg wrote that if “the GOP gets behind” this proposal “in a serious way, it will become for the first time in modern memory an intellectually serious party—one with a coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government”, he all but declared Ryan the leader of the Republican Party, pending the party getting behind said proposal. And get behind it they have. To be sure, while most support its general outline, not all Republicans back the plan. Four House Republicans voted against his budget. And last week, Senator Susan Collins of Maine was “the first Republican senator to state publicly that she will not support the Ryan budget.”
Back in his southeastern Wisconsin district where he is set to conclude today “his 19th town hall meeting of the last two weeks“, Ryan “is also garnering more attention and bigger crowds than the presidential hopefuls“. As he meets with his constituents, he’s been explaining why we must cut federal spending and reform entitlements. In short, he’s been standing firm not only on core Republican principles, but also defending an actual plan to enact them into law.
Screen capture of an image found on Gateway Pundit who links an article reporting that Ryan’s town-hall meetings have been “drawing capacity crowds“. Yeah, Ryan has attracted some criticism, but he takes thatl in stride, acknowledging the legitimacy of his critics’ concerns, saying, “This is Wisconsin. . . . We have divergent political views. We have a lot of political diversity. Any town hall is going to represent that, some more than others.”
So today, Paul Ryan, the man with a plan that most Republicans support, has become the de facto leader of the GOP. Let’s hope the mainstream media give him the attention he has merited with the work he’s put into drafting his budget and the efforts he has made to explain it to his constituents and his colleagues. But, I fear they’d rather enable an eccentric billionaire who feeds on publicity.
That real estate mogul may provide amusement and entertainment, but Mr. Ryan has a vision and policy proposals. And increasingly, Republicans recognize that his plan is the best way to rein in federal spending and start to reform a bloated federal government. And we appreciate his ability to articulate its merits and its necessity in terms that most of us can easily understand.
With 81% of Americans holding that the deficit is a problem that must be addressed now, his ideas, if effectively communicated, may well resonate beyond the GOP.
UPDATE: John McCormack reports that Paul Ryan “received a standing ovation Thursday afternoon during the Q&A part of” a townhall “meeting with constituents at a high school auditorium in a suburb of Milwaukee”:
Ryan faced a larger number of hecklers at this event than previous ones, but they were just a sliver of the max capacity crowd. The vast majority of those present stood and applauded Ryan after one constituent rose to thank the congressman for producing his plan to rein in the federal budget