Beall: Paul Ryan's Iowa problem


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Rep. Paul Ryan has gotten to the heart of what is plaguing the U.S. political system. It turns out that it’s Iowa.

During his first visit to the Hawkeye State since his failed vice-presidential bid in 2012, Ryan joined Gov. Terry Branstad to celebrate the latter’s “Birthday Bash” this week and chastised the state’s voters.

According to Ryan, If only we had been a touch less naïve, we would have realized how terrible President Obama is for the country and made the right choice in 2012.

“The next time you have a famous politician coming through Iowa, breezing through the towns, talking about big government,” Ryan said, “let’s be a little more skeptical.”

Yes, not once but twice we Iowans were swayed by the president’s magical charisma and fame, his talk of government solutions little more than a pied piper’s tune. Apparently Mitt Romney and Ryan never stood a chance because we were idiots who could not see the terrible future we are now living in because we were blinded by Obama’s smile.

This condescending rhetoric isn’t surprising from Ryan. It has become a staple of the Republican Party. After 2012, they were surprised they didn’t win … they asked themselves why they didn’t win … and they decided it was the voters’ fault. If only the voters would realize that they were wrong and the GOP was right, things would go better for the Republicans at the polls.

This type of magical thinking has led to stagnation in the Republican Party and the crystallization of hard conservatism as the party’s core ideology. Why change your positions when you assume that the voters, not the ideas, are wrong? No need to change your positions on minority or women’s issues, all you need to do is talk slower and use simpler words.

This is why Ryan is pushing Republicans not to modernize but to evangelize.

Republicans need to “go into inner cities, go into minority communities,” Ryan told the Des Moines Register Monday. “Go into communities that have not seen or heard from Republicans in a long time.”

Ryan’s strategy misses a broader point about the general public. The communities that haven’t heard from the GOP in a while don’t vote Republican because doing so would be against their best interests. It is not because they aren’t skeptical enough or that they simply haven’t heard the Republican Party’s sales pitch.

They don’t vote for the GOP precisely because leaders such as Ryan insult their intelligence by thinking that elections can be won by marching into new neighborhoods with the same-old policy agenda.

If you’re anti-immigration, you shouldn’t be surprised when Latinos don’t vote for you. When you put up hurdles and voter-ID laws to discourage African-Americans from voting, you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t vote for you. When you try to dismantle women’s reproductive rights, you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t vote for you.

You can’t expect groups to support you when you are actively working against them.

The Republican loss in 2012 didn’t stem from the fact that their message wasn’t distributed widely enough, it’s that the content was wrong. If the GOP is to recover, its members must not blame Iowans or the voters in other states, either. They must learn the reasons they lost, move closer to the political center, stop taking the government hostage, and begin to work with the president.

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