New York to Paul Ryan: Drop Dead
How much does Kathy Hochul's victory over Jane Corwin owe to Ryan's Medicare plan?
So how did Corwin lose? Go back to that playbook Ryan was warning about. Hochul started with, and stuck to, one simple message: Vote for me, and I'll protect Medicare. After Ryan introduced his budget, she honed in on the part of it that turned Medicare from a guarantee into a "premium support" plan for people who are currently 55 or younger
Corwin defended the plan. She started to lose ground. She added a twist to the message: Supporting the Ryan plan meant saving Medicare; supporting anything else meant killing it. That was the gist of the ad I saw the most of when I was in the district last week, a warning to voters that when Hochul said everything was "on the table," including entitlement spending, she meant she wanted to cut entitlements.
By doing that, Corwin was conceding part of the argument. It wasn't the anti-Ryan plan playbook; it was a bad translation of it. She had very little time to recover. A lot of that time was wasted by an insanely stupid micro-scandal, when her chief of staff confronted Jack Davis outside a veterans' event and came away with 17 seconds of video and the immortal phrase "You want punched out?" Corwin never explained why, if Medicare had to be changed into something that covered fewer expenses, voters should trust the Republicans to do it.
"The goal in politics is to unite your friends and divide your enemies," said Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express (which supported Corwin over Davis). "The Medicare issue isn't helpful when Republicans are divided and Democrats are united."
There was more to the Democrats' playbook than an attack on Ryan. There was also fantasy. Hochul stayed gritty-yet-generic when she talked about entitlement reform. At no point did she really expand on what it meant to put everything "on the table." When she did get specific, it was in a way that took advantage of voters' inability to count. On the trail and in one closing commercial, she said she'd attack the budget deficit by cutting aid to Pakistan. Check the numbers: In 2010, total aid to Pakistan amounted to about $3 billion. Outlays for Medicare were $458.3 billion.
Hochul's victory speech was short but limned with promises and equations just like that. "We can balance our budget the right way," she said. "Not on the backs of our seniors but by closing corporate loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas, and ending subsidies to Big Oil and, yes, by making the multimillionaires and billionaires pay their fair share. And we can ensure we do not decimate Medicare. We will keep the promises made to our seniors who have spent their lives paying into Medicare, so they can count on health care when they need it most."
The Ryan response is that Hochul's math doesn't add up, and that at some point, people are going to look at the debt, then look at their entitlements, and realize something's got to give.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Kathy Hochul courtesy her campaign website.