Nikki Haley defended Paul Ryan and his Medicare overhaul plan today like a tough older sister sticking up for her little brother against big, bad Newt Gingrich. "Here you've got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees," Haley told CNN's Peter Hamby. The South Carolina governor's comments follow two days of Newt-bashing after Gingrich criticized Ryan's plan as "rightwing social engineering." Pundit Charles Krauthammer--who managed to find some nice words for the likes of Donald Trump--declared that Gingrich is "done," having committed a "capital offense against the Eleventh Commandment"--thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican. NBC's First Read says the flap reveals a "new conservative litmus test... [I]f you criticize Ryan's budget plan--and, more importantly, its Medicare overhaul--then you're not considered a mainstream conservative Republican."

That's interesting, given t hat Ryan's Medicare proposal is considered to be dead. Though tinkering with the program is on the table, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, Ryan's voucher idea is not. Republican leaders have been backing away from the plan, and, Klein notes, Ryan didn't defend it in a big speech about his budget plan Monday.  "To say he glossed over it would be an understatement," Klein writes. "He rushed past it, like a man hastily greeting his ex on his way out of a party."

But Ryan is a rising star within the GOP, so maybe party leaders don't want to see the little guy battered up too much. He has national potential. Ryan spiked speculation that he'd run to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert,

"What matters to me is not the title. It's my ability to impact policy. It would take me, you know, 12 to 16 years in the Senate to get where I am in the House. I don't want to be in Congress for the rest of my life. ... I don't want to take myself out of this fight..."

Besides, some have even bigger ambitions for Ryan. The Weekly Standard's Jeffrey H. Anderson argues that Ryan should aim even higher in 2012--the White House. Anderson argues that Ryan would make an even better candidate than Mitch Daniels, who has establishment support for a candidacy, but not his wife's (yet).


To expand on this comparison, the list of Daniels's advantages over Ryan begins and ends with this: He has executive experience... Here are just a few of Ryan's advantages over Daniels: He's more charismatic and personally appealing; he's a better debater and has already successfully squared off against Obama on the budget and on Obamacare; he hasn't called for a "social truce"; he has more interest and expertise in foreign policy... he's been a leader in the ongoing fights in Washington about the future direction of the country; he wasn't Bush's budget director; he's young and dynamic; and he's not afraid to criticize the president in strong, yet civil, language; and he (perhaps alone) can unite the party's establishment and Tea Party--and social, economic, and defense--wings. ...
Ryan is too gifted, and this is his time. Duty calls.

Most voters say they don't want to see any cuts in Medicare benefits--even if it would help cut the deficit. But it looks like Republicans are going to stand by Ryan's plan, at least in principle, even if they can't get it signed into law. "Who is happiest about this development?" First Read asks. "The folks in charge of the Obama re-elect."