Tuesday, April 26, 2011

(updated a couple of times)

Reuters money columnist and occasional Sarah Palin starburst-seer James Pethokoukis injects a rumor into the political infosphere that would be the second most thrilling presidential news any Democrat could hope to hear, topped only by an announcement that Palin herself was going to run:

It's not just Bill Kristol, gang. There's desire at the highest ranks of the Republican Party, according to my reporting and sources, to see House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan seek the 2012 presidential nomination. Here’s why:

1) Since Democrats are determined to hang Ryan's bold "Path to Prosperity" budget plan around the neck of every Republican running for office in 2012, why not have its author and best salesman advocate for it directly vs. President Obama?

2) Ryan -- to borrow a favorite Simon Cowell phrase -- is "current." He's smack in the middle of budgetary and ideological clash between Democrats and Republicans and would immediately energize conservative and Tea Party activists.

3) Ryan is a strong national defense conservative, as well as pro-life.

4) Ryan is from a battleground state, Wisconsin, and a battleground region, the upper Great Lakes.

5) Ryan’s youth, vigor, likability and Jimmy Stewart persona — well, a wonky version of George Bailey — would be an immediate shorthand signal to voters that he’s a different kind of Republican. He also has a compelling life story to tell....

"Compelling life story"? You mean, including the part about relying on entitlement benefits as a teenager, then trying to gut entitlements as an adult?

I would love for this to be true. Running a guy in 2012 who's staking his political career on the abolition of Medicare would be the dumbest presidential move since, well, running a guy in 2008 who hugged George W. Bush. You know what percentage of voters in 2008 were at or near retirement age -- i.e., 50 or older -- according to CNN's exit poll? 43%. In 2010 it was 53%.

But I don't believe Pethokoukis -- I don't think anyone in the GOP actually wants Rand Boy to run. This is just an attempt to do a little jujitsu on the public perception of Ryan. He's not the guy whose plan voters are starting to attack at town halls (and Republicans are starting to run away from) -- he's a Republican superstar-in-the-making! Still! No, really!

If a few A-list Beltway journalists buy the spin, soon we'll be back to "We simply have to do what Paul Ryan proposes, or something very similar, as all serious people know...."


UPDATE: On her show tonight, after playing clips of town halls in which Republican members of Congress are facing constituent anger over the Ryan budget, Rachel Maddow previewed a report she'll be doing tomorrow:

The corporate-funded, big-money part of the conservative movement is not freaked out about the kind of thing you just saw -- they don't get freaked out. They, rather, are mounting a counteroffensive, a big, expensive counteroffensive, to try to quash the story of this grassroots anger that you just saw expressed against Republicans who voted for the Paul Ryan Republican budget.

I don't know what she's going to talk about in the report, but I think this Pethokoukis story is a small part of that corporate-funded counteroffensive -- no more, no less. I don't think it's news. I don't think it's true. It's a tiny extra dollop of spin.


UPDATE, WEDNESDAY: Oh, bloody hell:

There's clearly a concerted effort out there to persuade the public -- or at least the mainstream press -- that Ryan is still the object of adulation. The people behind this are operating on the principle that if you see a lot of people with positive feelings about someone, you'll be inclined to think that person must deserve the praise.

The image managers around Bush used to subscribe to this theory -- they loved setting up photo ops so there'd be lots of pictures of Bush being greeted by close-in, wildly enthusiastic crowds. They set up the hall for the 2004 convention so Bush would be speaking in the round. They wanted you to see him being liked. Then you'd think you should like him.

In his early days on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno went this route -- and (much as it may pain you to recall this) it helped him go to #1 in the late-night ratings:

Jay Leno had what Oprah Winfrey might call "a light bulb moment" ten years ago when he brought his late night NBC talk show to New York for a week and taped it in a studio that seemed cramped when compared to his spacious work environment in Burbank. When Leno returned to Los Angeles he immediately ordered a redesign for his entire studio, with the primary mandate that the front rows of the studio audience be brought closer to his stage, within touching distance. Leno's changes brought renewed energy to "The Tonight Show" that had been missing following the departure of Johnny Carson, and its ratings began to climb.

They're not really going for the visuals with Ryan so far (too many booing town hall participants), but they are trying to make you think he's really admired.

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