Byline: Paul Begala
He's Rubio, not Ryan.
The most troubling deficit the Republican Party has is not technological or even demographic; it is a deficit of new ideas. Thus, it is never too early to begin the Ideas Primary, and Marco Rubio has bolted from the gate to an early lead.
The telegenic, young Cuban-American senator from Florida has been a driving force behind the GOP's newfound (or, more accurate, renewed) commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. It may now seem hard to believe, but once upon a time Republicans supported allowing those who lacked proper papers to become citizens. President Reagan legalized the status of millions of undocumented workers. A generation later, John McCain teamed up with liberal icon Ted Kennedy to cosponsor an updated version of Reagan's approach. Their bill, backed by President George W. Bush, included severe penalties for those who have committed the relatively minor offense of illegally crossing the border, then created a path to citizenship for those who paid their debt to society. The right wing falsely branded this approach as amnesty, which it most certainly is not. Amnesty means no punishment, kind of like what Dick Cheney got for accidentally shooting his hunting companion in the face. The McCain-Kennedy-Bush proposal was punishment, not amnesty. Nevertheless, the A word stuck and immigration reform became toxic on the right.
It seems that losing the votes of nearly three out of four Latinos focuses the mind. That math and Senator Rubio's imprimatur make it likely that some form of comprehensive immigration reform will pass.
Meanwhile, the supposed fountainhead of ideas on the right, Paul Ryan, seems to have run dry. There is not much Ryan is calling for today that Calvin Coolidge didn't advocate almost a century ago. Ryan gave a major address to the National Review Institute recently in which he called for "strengthening" Medicare and Social Security, but didn't say how. He went on to say, "We'll say to the country: 'Here's our plan for the economy. Here's our plan for the budget ... for health care ... for energy ... for defense.'" Those aren't ideas, Congressman. They're promises to present plans that …