Though former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been skewered by conservative opinion makers since criticizing House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan on “Meet the Press” Sunday, political prognosticators expect that other Republican candidates will soon follow Gingrich’s lead.
Popular entitlement programs like Medicare, which would be drastically altered in Ryan’s budget proposal, have historically been the third rails of American politics, issues which politicians on both sides of the aisle are reluctant to target for change. While cutting spending is the GOP’s current mantra, political reality says that a large portion of voting Republicans are senior citizens, aged 65 and older, who don’t want politicians to tinker with Medicare.
In 2009, Gallup presented a breakdown of Republican voters that showed that since 2001 only one percent of senior citizens had abandoned the Republican Party. It showed that all other age groups left for the Democratic Party in droves.
Another Gallup poll released earlier this month revealed that more than any other age group, senior citizens are less worried about the financial state of Medicare and other entitlements programs. Only 29 percent of respondents over the age of 65 said they see the Medicare entitlement as causing a fiscal crisis within the next ten years.
Dr. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told The Daily Caller there are a number of reasons why Republicans will be seeking to distance themselves from Ryan’s budget proposal in 2012.
Chief among them is the fact that senior citizens are scared away by any talk of a major Medicare overhaul. Moreover, “any state with a disproportionate number of senior citizens will be affected,” said Sabato, who pointed specifically to Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
One Florida Democrat source familiar with the state’s political process told TheDC that “Floridians of all stripes — Democrats, Republicans and independents — are rightly concerned about the Republicans fighting to end Medicare.”
The source went on to predict that the Republican mantra for the 2012 election will be: “I am not Paul Ryan.”
When TheDC contacted the campaigns, official or otherwise, of Republican contenders, only former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum publicly attacked Gingrich for his comments.
“For several years, Newt Gingrich has deserved a lot of credit for thinking through a great many issues I a serious and interesting fashion,” said Santorum. “But his criticism of Congressman Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan yesterday was a big departure from Speaker Gingrich’s often sound policy proposals.”
Spokespersons for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty simply pointed to past statements praising Ryan’s proposal as a step in the right direction when contacted by TheDC. Representatives for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman did not return requests for comment.
Doug Sachtleben, spokesperson for potential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, told TheDC that Bachmann voted for the proposal in the House, while “noting that it is an aspirational document with goals that would change the trajectory of failure.”
But when asked about Medicare specifically, Sachtleben said that Bachmann “has fought for seniors through her untiring effort to repeal Obamacare and its $500 billion in cuts to Medicare.”
It is no secret that Democrats plan to make Medicare a theme of the 2012 elections and force Republicans to explain why they would support a budget plan that cuts Medicare spending.
Democratic attacks on campaigning politicians who voted for or supported Ryan’s plan, according to Sabato, will force Republicans to “at the very least…have to respond and explain their vote, if not move away from it.”
“And when you’re explaining or flip-flopping, you’re losing ground and costing yourself and lot of money that you’d rather be spending touting your accomplishments and attacking the opposition,” he added.
“This is something every GOP contender will have to deal with,” Reed Galen, a California-based Republican strategist told TheDC. “My guess is you will see most of them be as non-committal as they can be while holding to conservative principles.”
“When Chairman Ryan put out his plan, it was universally lauded for its bold approach, for his willingness to confront what are going to be serious and real issues,” Galen added. “But of course that will run smack into politics.”