For all the talk of “winners” and “losers” in the CNBC Republican presidential candidates’ debate last night, there was one near no-show: the big two-year bipartisan budget deal that passed the House a few hours before the debate began. I discussed this anomaly at TPMCafe:
Wednesday the most important economic/fiscal policy development of the entire presidential cycle occurred in Washington: The GOP-controlled House approved a two-year budget deal that takes away every conservative point of leverage until after the elections. It confirmed for the rank-and-file conservative “base” every suspicion about the gutless and treacherous Republican Establishment.
Yet in a GOP presidential debate Wednesday evening, the budget deal barely came up. Instead, for a variety of reasons, the candidates mostly took turns attacking the big dumb abstraction of Big Government as the cause of every conceivable problem, with Hillary Clinton and the feckless CNBC debate moderators getting beaten up nearly as much as Washington.
Perhaps it is telling that the budget deal was only emphasized by Rand Paul, a desperate candidate who had already announced he was going to filibuster the deal in the Senate when it comes up for a vote Thursday. Ted Cruz mentioned it, too, but only because it fits seamlessly into his usual rap. And John Kasich denounced it in passing but only to contrast it with his own alleged fiscal accomplishments way, way back in the day. Presumably the issue didn’t “work” for anyone else, and perhaps they were relieved to retreat to the minutiae of their tax plans and the vaguest and broadest suggestions that any federal involvement in any area of domestic government is to be opposed.
Maybe the candidates were just too deep into debate prep this week to notice the ground had shifted in Washington. I just don’t know.
Suffice it to say that the biggest winner of the entire day and night was Paul Ryan, whose two-faced response to a budget deal designed to make life easy for him received a tepid rebuke from Paul but nothing more. Unless there’s a real surprise in the Senate, it appears the GOP, including its presidential candidates, is ready to find some alternative to debt limit defaults and government shutdowns in order to smite its foes. Hearing them all sound like they want to go back to the governing philosophy of the Coolidge administration made me wonder if the biggest threat of all is that they might win next November.