Paul Ryan is now polling first in Iowa for the next presidential election. If Ryan is encouraged by this news, he is not much of a student of recent political history. Polling first in Iowa more than two years prior to the state’s overhyped, first-in-the-nation caucuses is a bit like being told by the guy at the convenience store that the lottery ticket he just sold you is the winner. Take it with a huge grain of salt.
The base of the party was truly excited when Mitt Romney picked the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate last year. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan seemed to bring to the ticket a wonkish love of and a conservative approach to federal fiscal policy. Young, physically fit and eager to take on his opponents, he looked like the future of the GOP. Like Sarah Palin before him, his selection was hailed by movement conservatives, myself included, who were convinced he would bring a dynamic to the campaign the presidential candidate himself sorely lacked.
Now, as a third of the governors and half the senators in the country look longingly toward 2016, Ryan is the sole member of the House who can even daydream seriously about joining their club. But when it comes to grabbing for the big brass ring at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, history is not on the side of any sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 56 presidential elections, only one candidate has ever been elected directly to the office of the presidency from that body: James A. Garfield, who was elected in 1880.
In addition to trying to make the unlikely leap from the House to the White House, Ryan faces other problems. Polling well in Iowa is no guarantee of anything. Even if his popularity holds for the next 25 months - an eternity in politics - the Hawkeye State is not a good harbinger of ultimate success either in winning the Republican nomination or the general election. Here is a partial list of the winners for an open seat over the last several election cycles:
In 2012, the winner in Iowa was Rick Santorum (Romney won the nomination). In 2008, the state’s Republicans gave their prize to Mike Huckabee (John McCain became the party’s nominee). George W. Bush and Bob Dole won in 2000 and 1996, respectively (the exceptions that prove the rule). In 1988, Dole and televangelist Pat Robertson beat out George H.W. Bush, who went on to win that year’s nomination. However, back in 1980, Bush the elder did win the Iowa caucuses against Ronald Reagan - who charitably put Bush on his ticket after trouncing him in most of the rest of the primaries.
Paul Ryan’s other problem - perhaps his greater problem - is that since he ran for vice president last year, he seems to have developed a love for alienating the very people who will ultimately hold his political future in their hands. Like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, Ryan’s embrace of the politically suicidal policy of amnesty for illegal aliens was enough to sink his chances of running for president as a Republican.
However, his fiscal sellout with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-WA - which we are now discovering includes deep cuts in military retirement benefits, even for disabled veterans - is even more unforgivable.
According to Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s latest annual “Wastebook,” our federal government is granting millions of dollars a year in tax breaks for brothels in Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada. We are blowing deficit dollars to “develop a math learning game based on the zombie apocalypse.” And the Department of Health and Human Services has spent nearly a billion dollars on a website that doesn’t even work.
These are just a few of the stupid things on which our government squanders our tax dollars. Yet Paul Ryan and Patty Murray want to “cut spending” on the backs of disabled military veterans who laid their very lives on the line for all of us? We spend more borrowed money in two days than these cuts in our veterans’ benefits will save in ten years!
Take it to the bank: For these, and many other reasons, Paul Ryan will not be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, regardless of what happens in Iowa.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. Readers are encouraged to email him at email@example.com and/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.