Kenosha County Supervisor Rob Zerban really wants to debate Paul Ryan.
Zerban, who is challenging Ryan for a U.S. Congress seat, says it’s a diss to his 1st congressional district if Ryan doesn’t commit to at least one debate. Described by many pundits as the top intellectual mind of the Republican Party, Ryan excels in economic and fiscal policies. He’s a policy wonk for sure, but also possesses the finesse to communicate his ideas in a relatable format. To challenge an “ideas guy” to a debate takes some grit, but Zerban doesn’t deserve a debate.
The purpose of political debates, broadly speaking, is to inform constituents about where the candidates stand on important issues. In the case of an incumbent, this involves vocalizing ideas and defending a voting record. But Ryan’s ideas and voting record are now the subject to national scrutiny by journalists, bloggers, economists, think tank analysts, and partisan advocacy organizations. What can a debate with an untested county supervisor add to the national discussion?
When asked whether Ryan would commit to a debate with Zerban, local spokesman for Ryan’s campaign, Kevin Seifert, said they would take a wait and see approach. Seifert expressed that Ryan has represented the 1st congressional district for 14 years; his constituents know where he stands on the issues.
Let me add to Seifert’s point here. Ryan has not been timid about his views on pretty much anything from entitlement spending to tax reform. For years, Ryan has sounded the fiscal alarm, introducing multiple budgetary plans that sought to reform third rail issues like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Historically, these programs are the “third rail of politics” because politicians silly enough to touch them tend to find themselves out of a job.
If Ryan refuses a debate Rob Zerban, it’s not because he’s ducking a challenge by a formidable opponent. It’s because the debate is unnecessary. Debates tend to prove two things: who has the better ideas and who is better at communicating them. Fortunately for Ryan, he has skills in both areas.
Even if Zerban were a quick study and proficient at communicating, the debate would likely be a wash. If he’s not particularly adroit, he’ll last about as long with Ryan as a balloon in a room full of kittens.