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How the GOP Is Committing Political Suicide With Ryan's Extremist Budget Plan

Believing their own spin, the GOP appears to have over-reached since the last election, alienating swing voters as it pursues a profoundly reactionary agenda.

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If that proves to be the case, it will be the result of a party believing its own political spin. For years, the American Right has portrayed itself as representing “real America,” as Sarah Palin put it. They've long characterized the U.S. as a “center-right” nation full of people who hate “big government,” and they've portrayed popular social safety-net programs as somehow being foreign, if not unconstitutional signs of “creeping socialism.”Last year, when they swept into control of the House, they convinced themselves that the American public had enthusiastically handed them a mandate.

Believing their own spin, the GOP has dramatically over-reached since then, alienating swing voters as it pursues a profoundly reactionary agenda. We saw it at the state level – as Talking-Points Memo noted, “Wisconsin's Scott Walker (R), Ohio's John Kasich (R), and Michigan's Rick Snyder (R) have seen their approval ratings fall to the point that polls show them losing hypothetical do-over elections with the candidates they beat last year” – and now it's beginning to show in the national polls.

Last week, a Public Policy Polling survey revealed that those “fickle independents” who sent the Tea Party Congress to Washington “are turning against the GOP in a big way” just a few short months later. “Exit polls showed Independents supporting the GOP by a 19-point margin last year at 56-37,” noted the pollsters. “Now only 30 percent of those voters think that the Republican-controlled House is moving things in the right direction, compared to 44 percent who think things were better with the Democrats.”

In the real world, Republicans won last year's popular vote by a 3-point margin, getting 21.6 percent of the vote while 18.6 percent went for the Dems (and almost 60 percent stayed home). And another reality, long understood by anyone who reads the polls, is that while people respond positively to the idea of limited government in the abstract, when it comes to specifics people love big government and most, if not all of what it does. They want a government that will educate their children and put out forest fires and pay for their million-dollar cancer treatments and make sure that big chemical companies aren't poisoning their water and keep them from having to eat cat food after they've put in 50 years in the workforce.

That's why so much conservative rhetoric about the economy is based on airy, nonspecific claims of defending our “freedom” and “liberty.” They're on solid ground appealing to these lofty ideals. And the reason many Republicans were cautious about embracing Ryan’s Roadmap last year—and why Democrats were eager to tout its supposed virtues—is that it was not only the embodiment of modern conservative thinking about the roles of private enterprise and government but, as Pete Wehner, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, put it, the plan represents an “intellectually honest document,” and, as such, “has real numbers and it puts forward real proposals.”

That’s problematic for conservatives—a much harder sell than some ideologically spun notion of preserving our “freedom.” And now the American people are getting a taste of what conservatives' preferred policies would look like in concrete terms. Any losses the Republicans suffer next November as a result will be a fitting punishment for their hubris – for believing their own spin.

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