In August 2012, right around the time Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his national running mate, Nate Silver published a New York Times item highlighting the congressman's ideology.
"Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative," Silver wrote at the time. "Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota."
That wasn't a typo. When it comes to independent analyses of lawmakers' ideology, as recently as 2012, Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann were roughly at the same place on the liberal-conservative spectrum.
House elects Paul Ryan as speakerOct. 29, 201503:12
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan was elected on Thursday to serve as the next speaker of the House -- a vote that followed weeks of uncertainty and came on the heels of the House passage of a sweeping two-year bipartisan budget deal. [...] Ryan received 236 votes. California Democrat and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi received 184 votes with others netting in the single digits.
Given some of the complaints from right-wing critics, one might be tempted to think House Republicans have elevated a moderate pragmatist. That would certainly represent the thinking of much of the Beltway media.
On "Fox News Sunday" earlier this week, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward said of Ryan, "You know, you see him there, he just kind of vibrates reasonableness."
No, seriously. That's what he said.
But if we put aside the Wisconsin Republican's vibrations, an important picture emerges. National Journal published a piece last week that found, as a quantifiable matter, Paul Ryan is "the most the most conservative House Speaker in recent history."
It's difficult to summarize the congressman's 16-year career on Capitol Hill in a single blog post, so I won't try, but perusing the MaddowBlog archive this morning, some relevant tidbits stood out.
We can start with the fact that Ryan's record as "a fiscal conservative" is, at a minimum, problematic. He voted for George W. Bush’s tax cuts and didn’t feel the need to pay for them. Then he voted for Bush’s extremely expensive Medicare expansion, and didn’t feel the need to pay for this, either. He also voted for Bush’s wars, and had no qualms whatsoever about adding the costs the national credit card, letting future generations pay for our national security goals. To top things off, Ryan also voted to bail out Wall Street, and once more, he decided the costs should just be added to the debt.
But in the Obama era, he became a deficit hawk.
Let's also note that, his recent plaudits notwithstanding, Ryan has been one of Congress' bitter partisans. Though he's known for his focus on fiscal issues, Ryan is also a fierce culture warrior, taking a hard-right line on contraception access, "Personhood," and LGBT rights, twice supporting a constitutional amendment to block marriage equality. At one point, Ryan even worked with Todd Akin to redefine "rape."
The scope of Ryan's conservatism is practically endless. He's a climate denier. He has an unhealthy preoccupation with tax breaks for the wealthy. He's credited Ayn Rand as "the reason I got involved in public service."
Ryan not only condemned Social Security as "a collectivist system," he blasted Social Security’s Democratic champions as “collectivist, class warfare-breathing demagogues.”
And then, of course, there's the infamous Paul Ryan budget plan -- in all of its various iterations -- which would not only end Medicare, converting the program into a voucher system, but which goes out of its way to redistribute wealth from the bottom up.
Americans have seen plenty of Republican Speakers in recent generations, some more conservative than others. But in modern times, we haven't seen anyone whose conservatism can match Paul Ryan's. He's celebrated by the political establishment as a wonky, practical GOP leader, but his public-relations successes are belied by an alarming record of radicalism.