In a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger writes, “Next to generalized distemper in Republican circles over their presidential candidates, the second most-offered opinion on the race is that people wish Paul Ryan were running. The Wisconsin congressman and House Budget chairman says he’s not, but the discontented, especially independents, keep saying they wish he were.”
Henninger explains that the coming election is unlike any previous one: “Three dormant financial volcanoes have sat beneath U.S. presidential elections for a generation: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Combined, they hold enough lava to one day turn the United States into a kind of economic Pompeii, trapped in the eternal sludge of its entitlements. Until recently, daily life went on in the U.S. from one election to the next, alongside the rumbling volcanoes.”
Three events, Henninger writes, changed this: First, the 2008 financial crisis “forced the public to focus acutely on money — theirs and the government’s.” Second, Democrats pass Obamacare after “a whole nation’s people focused for a year on the details of a bill about health care and insurance,” with the vast majority registering their clear opposition to it, which “the country knew” meant either repeal or “a fourth long-term entitlement.” Third, “The debt ceiling has hit $14 trillion, and the U.S. is on the cusp of a ratings downgrade.”
In the wake of these three events, Henninger writes, “What Republicans and ideologically independent voters want is a GOP candidate willing — and more importantly, able — to engage Barack Obama frontally and in detail over the future of the spending commitments embedded in the events of the past three years and the past 70 years....
“To date, what non-Obama voters see, and fear, is a candidate content to coast to the nomination and then conduct a blandly conservative campaign. They want a more substantive choice than that. They want to have it out over the worth or danger of Barack Obama’s ideas. They want the chance to ratify Washington’s enormous long-term claims on the country’s wealth, or decisively reject them.
“When people say they ‘like’ Paul Ryan it is because they see him as a kind of political Navy SEAL, someone with the specialized knowledge needed to do hand-to-hand policy combat with an incumbent president who represents a once-and-for-all assertion of Washington’s primacy.”
Henninger concludes, “Don’t read this as a Ryan endorsement.” No, just read it as an endorsement of a GOP candidate who sounds an awful lot like Ryan — and who possesses the “level of knowledge” about federal policy and “the federal crisis” that Ryan (uniquely) possesses.