The conventional narrative right now is that the government shutdown and debt brinkmanship are doing tremendous damage to the GOP, as seen in that new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, and that's why Republicans are talking to the White House. But if there's damage, it's not going to be to the Republican Party -- it's going to be to just one version of the Republican Party, the one that brought us to this crisis. As I told you even before the shutdown began, the Republican Party as a whole never gets the blame it deserves, because the mainstream press responds to every GOP failure -- Watergate, the 1995 government shutdown, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Iraq War, the 2008 financial collapse -- by quickly announcing the birth of a new Republican Party that utterly expunges the sins of the old.
It's happening again.
Look at this gushing story about Paul Ryan, from the front page of today's New York Times. Ryan emerged from the shadows this week, and we're clearly supposed to regard that as wonderful news, because he's serious and thoughtful and just, well, dreamy. He's a hard-liner and a moderate! An ideologue and a conciliator. A floor wax and a dessert topping:
Representative Paul D. Ryan may have temporarily receded into the Capitol shadows after his stinging vice-presidential defeat in November, but he remains a powerful presence among House Republicans, earning the respect of hard-line conservatives for his budget blueprint and the trust of anxious moderates for his pragmatism.I'll stop there. Are you getting the heavy-breathing quality of this? The romance-novel words -- "powerful," "reassert," "bluntly," "immense"?
Now, the impasse that has shuttered much of the government and steered the nation toward a default has offered the Wisconsin congressman a new opening to reassert himself -- and suddenly a man who seemed in danger of being eclipsed as the face of his party has re-emerged as essential to its rescue.
"I want to get to a budget agreement," Mr. Ryan said bluntly on Thursday, after House Republican leaders latched onto his plan to offer a short-term increase in the debt ceiling as a way forward on deficit reduction and tax reform talks. "We think this takes us in the right direction."
Mr. Ryan, 43, has immense credibility with conservatives for his "Path to Prosperity" budget, which proposed politically risky Medicare changes and deep tax cuts. Moderates see Mr. Ryan, who has broken with some conservatives over immigration, as a lawmaker with some flexibility. In many respects, his standing exceeds that of the party's titular leader, Speaker John A. Boehner. Perhaps most important, Democrats believe that when Mr. Ryan drafts a plan, he can actually deliver the votes. They hold no such confidence in Mr. Boehner.
"He's still the intellectual center of Republicans in the House," said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, who serves as Mr. Ryan's bridge between the House Budget and Appropriations Committees. "He's a guy who commands universal respect in the conference and the trust of leadership, and he has credibility with the other side." ...
We're supposed to ignore the fact that the Republicans are still shutting down the government. We're supposed to ignore the fact that they're still talking about a very brief respite from debt blackmail. A manly man, both tough and gentle, has taken the lead, and we're all supposed to swoon.
The mainstream press always does this -- always tells us that the GOP that just drove the car off the cliff two minutes ago isn't the real GOP. When the party's problem was seen as racism, Marco Rubio was declared to be the real GOP. When the problem is seen as "Washington," Chris Christie is said to be the real GOP. For now, it's Ryan. And if the current talks break down and Ryan gets some of the blame, it'll be someone else. The Republican Party is never at fault, because the Republican Party is endlessly malleable, in the mainstream press's view.