The way things are going in the presidential race, I’m going to write in Paul D. Ryan.
Join me. Pass the word. If enough of us moderates (Rs and Ds) and independents do it all over the country, Ryan won’t get elected, but we can make a ringing statement about the kind of politics we want — and don’t want.
Ryan has been speaker of the House for not quite three months, and already he has shown he’s the true heir in of his mentor, Jack Kemp. His politics, as Kemp’s were, are idea-driven, pro-growth, optimistic, inclusive, compassionate.
That’s the diametrical opposite of the politics of the two front-runners for the Republican nomination. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are practicing the politics of resentment, fear and division.
Trump is nativist, xenophobic, misogynist, undignified, insulting and profane. Admittedly, he’s giving voice to the anger of working-class white voters who feel they are losing out in the modern economy and think establishment politicians have done nothing for them.
But his solutions — to the extent he has any beyond “I’m a billionaire. Trust me.” — are to expel 11 million illegal immigrants, renounce trade agreements our allies expect us to live up to and enact a tax plan that will widen income inequality and balloon the national debt.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates Trump’s plan would reduce revenues over 10 years by $9.5 trillion unless offset by draconian cuts in discretionary spending and/or Social Security and Medicare — of which he’s proposed none. And, contrary to his pledges to sock it to his hedge fund friends, taxpayers in the top 0.1 percent bracket would get a break of 18.3 percent, while lower-middle-income workers would gain 3.1 percent.
Cruz is playing to the same dark tendencies as Trump. His immigration solution is “enforce the law.” Think Javert in Les Mis: it could mean mass deportation or making life so difficult for the undocumented, they’ll self-deport. He privately told a pharmaceutical executive that after he’s done dismantling Obamacare, he’ll do the same to the Food and Drug Administration. And he’s such an absolutist, he’s detested by all the Senate colleagues he’d have to work with.
In the December Quinnipiac poll, 50 percent of voters said they’d be embarrassed if Trump were president. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans definitely would not support him. In January, YouGov polling, 53 percent said he is “too outrageous and controversial to be president.”
In earlier YouGov polls, Trump was viewed “very unfavorably” by 43 percent of independents and 47 percent of self-described moderates. Cruz had lower “very unfavorable” ratings (30 percent) among independents, but nearly as high among moderates.
There are tens of millions of us who would be mightily dismayed if Trump or Cruz got the GOP nomination. Every presidential exit poll shows that a plurality of voters — 40-plus percent — considers itself moderate. Independents now outnumber Democrats and Republicans, 39-32-23.
Hillary Clinton is a distasteful choice for me, too. Fifty-nine percent of independents view her unfavorably and the same percentage of voters consider her not honest and trustworthy. She was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement before (placating unions) she came out against it. She says she’ll go beyond President Barack Obama’s big government agenda, which means higher taxes and more regulation, stifling the growth we need to provide more jobs. She’s scandal-ridden and considers Republicans her enemies, which is not a formula for a successful presidency. And Bernard Sanders, should he beat Hillary, is too left to consider.
We can hope someone other than Trump or Cruz is nominated, though the current “establishment” leader, Marco Rubio, is now tilting so far right on immigration, abortion and foreign policy that he’ll soon be in Cruz territory. And, haven’t we had enough trouble already, electing a freshman senator without executive experience?
We can hope that Michael Bloomberg decides to run an as independent, but he likely won’t. He doesn’t want to spend $1 billion if he can’t win. If you live in a swing state, probably the civic-minded thing to do is hold your nose and pick the lesser of evils. But you’d be tempted not to vote at all. In a red or blue state, your vote won’t count, so you’re free to make a statement. You can make a positive statement.
Ryan is a statement. He means to pass a policy agenda, to make the GOP “not the opposition party, but the proposition party.” Admittedly, the agenda exists only in outline, but it’s pretty clear it would involve tax reform, free trade and deregulation; replacing Obamacare with a market-based health plan, and waging a conservative war on poverty.
Like Jack Kemp, Ryan is a genuine compassionate conservative. He didn’t have to denounce Trump’s Muslim-exclusion plan, but he did. He wants poverty programs to be, as Kemp used to say, “a trampoline, not a trap.” He says that immigration reform is a growth strategy. He’s already proved he can pass a bipartisan budget, a highway bill and education reform.
I wish Ryan had run this year. If enough of us write him in, maybe he will next time.
Morton Kondracke is Roll Call's former executive editor and columnist. He is co-author of "Jack Kemp: The Bleeding Heart Conservative Who Changed America."