To get a sense of just how difficult it is for some conservative commentators to accept the public’s verdict on Ryancare, take a look at Marc Thiessen’s diagnosis of the political problem Republicans face in the wake of NY-26. Thiessen rejects the notion that Republicans should now distance themselves from the GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it, and instead recommends that Republicans go on offense:
Why on earth have Republicans allowed Democrats to define the Ryan proposal as a plan to “end Medicare” when it is the Democrats who risk ending Medicare though a policy of neglect? Even the New York Times editorial page warned after the New York vote, “Sooner or later, Democrats will have to admit that Medicare cannot keep running as it is — its medical costs are out of control, and a recent report showed its trust fund running out of money in 2024, five years earlier than expected.”
Democrats have put forward no plan to deal with this fiscal crisis. Quite the opposite, they made it worse by taking $500 billion out of Medicare to help fund the president’s health-care law — robbing Medicare to pay for Obamacare. The time has come for the GOP to take the gloves off. When liberal groups put up an ad showing Ryan pushing Grandma off of a cliff, Republicans need to counter with an ad showing Obama, Pelosi and Reid pushing Grandma off the cliff — because that is where Medicare is headed if we follow their policy of inaction. The message should be: If we do nothing, Medicare will collapse — and millions of retirees will be left without health coverage. Democratic neglect will kill Medicare; Republicans are trying to save it.
So Republicans can reverse their fortunes if they start claiming that Democrats are the ones who would really destroy Medicare? That’s a great idea. Indeed, it’s such a good idea that Ryan himself tried it way back in September of 2010, claiming that Dems hostile to his approach were “standing idle with icy indifference as the social safety net implodes.” As Jon Chait notes, the arguments Thiessen wants Republicans to make have been a staple of GOP rhetoric for years.
In the current context, Republicans have been making the case for over a month that the Dems don’t have a plan and that their do-nothing approach guarantees benefits cuts to future generations. And last week, Republicans even took this argument a step further, claiming that not only do Dems lack a plan, but also that Democrats are the only ones who have ever voted to cut Medicare — despite the House GOP vote for the Ryan plan.
Indeed, if anything, Democrats have succeeded in spite of the GOP’s already-frequent use of this strategy in framing this debate on their own terms, as one pitting Medicare’s saviors (them) against its would-be destroyers (Republicans). As much as Thiessen wishes otherwise, it’s going to be very hard to reverse these roles in the public mind.