Paul Krugman has proposed a taxonomy for Republican candidates seeking public office. To espouse the counter-factual beliefs that make one a loyal Republican, a candidate must be either totally clueless (Bachman, Perry, Cain) or totally cynical (Romney, Gingrich). But then Rich Santorum called that rule into doubt by being neither clueless nor cynical, just crazy.
So if a Republican politician these days has to be either clueless, cynical, or crazy, where does Paul Ryan fit in? Well, as the wonkiest of all Republican wonks, Ryan certainly doesn't seem clueless. And with his passionate advocacy of balanced budgets, he comes across as absolutely sincere and not at all cynical. And, unlike Santorum, Ryan's whole manner of earnesty, sincerity and reasonableness seems incompatible with him being crazy. And yet his budget numbers just don't add up. It relies on doing things like assuming Obamacare's reductions to Medicare (and then denouncing those reductions as an outrage at the convention); turning Medicaid and Food Stamps into block grants to the states and making deep cuts to them while pretending that people will not be denied benefits as a result; and assuming that spending on everything but Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and S-CHIP will fall to 3.75% of GDP while Mitt Romney promises to maintain defense spending at 4% of GDP. So clearly Ryan is proposing some things that are, at best, factually dubious. Does that make him clueless, cynical, or crazy?
Ryan projects wonkiness, sincerity, and rationality so well that it is hard for me to tell. I will say, though, that Krugman, whose judgment has proven to be impressive, is betting heavily on cynical.