BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Last week, Newt Gingrich, the disgraced former House Speaker and one of the current stars of CNN's "Crossfire," and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz were caught off guard when their conservative brethren came down hard on them for their having praised Nelson Mandela in the wake of his death. For a few days, the right wing blogosphere, always an arena of acrimony, became a landfill of outrage and animosity, which surprised both the Gingrich and Cruz camps. This week, it's Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan's turn to feel the heat and be caught off guard.
Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray have crafted a budget deal that appears to appeal to neither liberals nor conservatives, especially Tea Party conservatives. However, Ryan, who has claimed that the deal, while not fully realizing conservative goals of stripping the government bare, maintained that it is a step "in the right direction."
The budget deal unleashed the dogs of conservatism. The intensity of the barking from fellow conservatives seems to have surprised Ryan. He told "CBS This Morning" that "we were a little caught off guard" by the intensity of conservative criticism.
Generally universally adored by conservatives for his hardline economic and social conservatism, the Ryan-Murray budget deal -- but not the congressman – is being pilloried by some of those very same supporters.
The attackers were legion, led by a host of potential contenders for the 2016 Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016. "It's not just this budget; it's this lack of long-term thinking around here," Florida Senator Marco Rubio, told Mike Huckabee on his conservative radio show on Wednesday. "There are no long-term solutions apparently possible in Washington, and we are running out of time."
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, another potential candidate said, "I cannot support a budget that raises taxes and never balances, nor can I support a deal that does nothing to reduce our nation's $17.3 trillion debt."
Heritage Action, Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity are all lining up "against the budget compromise, if not against Mr. Ryan personally," The New York Times reported.
"The conservative base of the Republican Party was already walking away from the establishment G.O.P.," said longtime conservative L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica. "That will now turn into a stampede away from a party that has lost its principles and bearings."
Tim Phillips, the head of Americans for Prosperity, said: "The American people remember hard-won bipartisan spending limits set by the sequester and are not pleased to see their conservative representatives so easily go back on their word to rein in government over-spending."
Not all conservatives were naysayers: "He's one of smartest people I know, trying to wrestle with our real problems," Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, said of Mr. Ryan. "Republicans made the calculation that they want to get to the election with no more fuss, focus on Obamacare and retake the Senate, so he produced a budget that raises spending and raises taxes. It's as simple as that."
Ryan, who admitted to being caught "off guard," was sticking to his guns and confident that the agreement will pass the Congress: "I feel good about where we are. We understand there are members who won't support it. That's the nature of bipartisan agreements," Ryan said. "For me, what matters is keeping our principles intact, moving the process forward in a constructive way, and preventing government shutdowns."
One big question for Ryan is whether he has hurt his chances to corral the GOP's presidential nomination in 2016. The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier doesn't see any long-term negative effects on a Ryan candidacy.
According to Grier, "many grass-roots conservatives appear inclined to cut Ryan some slack. His long advocacy for deep budget cuts and turning Medicare into a voucher program have earned him some goodwill on the right. Plus, he's reached out to tea party groups since their beginning. As former National Review reporter Robert Costa tweeted on Wednesday, conservative talk radio hosts – a power in the party – are unlikely to hit Ryan hard in personal terms."
In addition, Ryan appears to have "enough of a cushion of support to be able to withstand some deterioration in his position with tea party groups and still be a top 2016 contender," Grier noted.
While the budget deal is inhabiting this week's headlines and conservatives combatting conservatives is becoming more evident – and a story the mainstream media appears to be enjoying immensely – it too will fade away. There's a long way to go between now and 2016 and if Ryan wants to run, he will have ample opportunities to thrust himself back into the good graces of the Heritage Foundation, Club For Growth and Americans for Prosperity.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)