An Omen, Not a Predictive Event

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HALPERIN’S TAKE: How to react, but not overreact, to NY-26.

There’s no way to spin this result. Both the reality and the perception are in sync: Republicans’ bet on pushing the Ryan Medicare plan through the House has cost them what should have been a totally safe GOP seat. All the other factors – a third-party candidate and the weakness of the Republican nominee – are meaningless. The crazy thing for Republicans is that they walked the plank for a policy that has no chance to become law as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, much like Democrats did on cap and trade. Democrats are now energized and emboldened, secure in the knowledge that very few members of the media will hold them accountable for fudging the line by suggesting that current retirees would see the Medicare program fundamentally changed for them by the Ryan plan. At the same time, Democrats in their hearts believe the Ryan plan is a bad idea, and now can push that line with off-the-shelf ease in every race in the country.

To their credit, most Republicans will now say that they need to keep fighting the good fight to educate the public on the terms of the debate, most notably that Democratic plans would imperil the beloved health care program because of the coming fiscal insolvency. This does not mean that the GOP’s control of the House is imperiled. While it is impossible to predict with certainty, it is clear that like much swirling about in politics today, the outcome of the 2012 election (for both president and control of Congress) will be determined in large part by whether there is a grand bargain on deficit reduction (including Medicare changes), and, if there is such a bargain, what the terms of it are. And Republicans might do better in the message wars than they have since Ryan’s plan was passed in the House. This is a horrible omen for Republicans, but not a predictive event.

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