Home/Daniel Larison/Entitlement Reform Is Politically Risky, and the 2010 Midterms Prove It

Entitlement Reform Is Politically Risky, and the 2010 Midterms Prove It

Matt Continetti provides the most ridiculous spin of the day:

The template for the Ryan budget, the Roadmap for America’s Future, became an election issue in 2010 when the president singled out Ryan for attack. That did not stop Republicans from winning a huge victory in the fall. Many of the candidates linked to the Roadmap, including Marco Rubio in senior-laden Florida, came under heavy fire. Rubio won, and he was not alone. Nationwide, the Republican share of the senior vote went from 48 percent in 2008 to 58 percent in 2010.

The Republican tilt among seniors was driven almost entirely by the GOP’s successful use of a tactic that they have since derided as “Mediscare,” and Republicans benefited even more from this because of the above-average midterm turnout of voters 65+. One of the main Republican attacks on the health care legislation focused on its cuts to Medicare, and Republican leaders demagogued those cuts for all they were worth. The changes that the ACA made to Medicare were among its most unpopular provisions, elderly voters were the most opposed to the ACA of any age group, and Republicans in Congress did their best to exploit that unpopularity. Prior to the midterms, Republican leaders were running away from Ryan and his proposals as quickly as they could. The political lesson to be drawn from this is that making significant changes to Medicare is a major political liability. Entitlement reform is necessary, and Ryan might be on the right track, but there is no use pretending that it is not dangerous for the party that attempts it. Using the 2010 results as evidence to the contrary is preposterous.

Update: Jonathan Bernstein comments on this story on “selling” the Ryan budget plan, including the description of poll results using the “right poll-tested words”:

Are you kidding? If my pollster comes to me and says that if I frame things just right in a poll my side wins by a 46/37 margin, I’m going to realize that the program being tested is deeply unpopular. 46/37 when you get complete control of information? That’s awful.

As the Politico story says later on, the roll-out of this year’s plan takes for granted that entitlement reform is unpopular:

Above all, the Ryan budget rollout was designed to conform to a new political reality for Republicans: Changing entitlements is difficult, not popular but necessary. And even the true believers — like Ryan himself — need to build coalitions when they pitch big ideas.

Meanwhile, as Dan McCarthy discusses on the main blog, the Ryan plan’s numbers don’t add up.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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