Bruce Springsteen’s discography has taken on human form — and now it’s trying to kick Paul Ryan out of Congress.
Or so one might think while watching the first ad of Randy Bryce’s congressional campaign.
It’s hard to imagine how the Democrats could craft a better two-minute argument for white workers in the Midwest to return to their political roots. Within its first five seconds, the spot connects both Paul Ryan and Donald Trump to the House’s heinously unpopular health-care bill. Then it immediately illustrates the human consequences of that bill, as Bryce’s mother gives a heartrending testimonial to the nightmare of multiple sclerosis — and how the GOP is exacerbating it, by threatening to make her medications impossible to afford.
From there, Bryce maneuvers iron while extolling the virtues of hard work; laughs with a multiracial group of working-class friends; touts his lifelong ties to southern Wisconsin; argues that working people need more seats at the table in Washington; ties support for the safety net to good old-fashioned communitarian values; and closes with a line sure to launch a thousand fire emoji — “Let’s trade places. Paul Ryan, you can come work the iron, and I’ll go to D.C.”
An all this while sporting an enviable mustache.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Bryce, himself, was engineered by top-notch Democratic consultants. The ironworker is a cancer survivor, Army veteran, political coordinator for his union, and member of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. His memorable Twitter handle — @IronStache — evinces a savviness for social media.
There’s only one minor blemish on Bryce’s résumé: He hasn’t been very good at winning elections. In 2012, Bryce’s bid for a seat in the State Assembly ended with a loss in the Democratic primary. Two years later, he lost a general-election race for the State Senate.
Paul Ryan, by contrast, has proven himself extremely good at getting Wisconsinites to vote for him. The House Speaker hasn’t had a close race since he won Wisconsin’s first district in 1998. In 2016, he beat his Democratic challenger by 35 points.
Which is pretty remarkable, given that Ryan has worked tirelessly to associate himself with many of the least popular policies in American politics — including tax cuts for the rich and the privatization of Social Security and Medicare — even though he represents a district with an electorate that’s only 5 points more Republican than Democratic. When Ryan was on the GOP ticket in 2012, Mitt Romney beat Obama by a mere 4 points in his district. Last fall, Trump beat Clinton there by 10.
One way to read that last bit is that Ryan’s district is trending right, and becoming ever-safer for the Speaker. But it’s also possible that Trump’s advantage over Romney testifies to the district’s appetite for populism — a taste that Ryan appears ill-equipped to cater to.
Without question, Bryce is a long-shot candidate. But put together a spike in Democratic mobilization, Ryan’s association with a deeply unpopular health-care bill, a national mood biased against career politicians, and Bryce’s authentic connection to the district’s working people, and maybe, just maybe, @IronStache can expedite Ryan’s inevitable transformation into a grotesquely well-compensated corporate functionary.