Even before last night’s Republican debate, conservatives were pondering what it means that their frontrunner wants to make old people eat cat food. It’s true that there is some kind of bad blood between Texas Governor Rick Perry and Karl Rove, but that doesn’t mean that Rove isn’t correct in his analysis:

Perry’s campaign has not backed away from what Perry wrote in his book “Fed Up” — that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” a “failure,” “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and one of many New Deal programs that have “never died, and like a bad disease, they have spread.”
But Rove pulled no punches today, calling that stance “inadequate.”

“They are going to have to find a way to deal with these things,” Rove said.

“They’re toxic in a general election environment and they are also toxic in a Republican primary. And if you say Social Security is a failure and ought to be replaced by a state level program, then people are going to say ‘What do you mean by that?’ and make a judgment based on your answer to it,” he said.

All of that was pre-debate. But Rick Perry didn’t back down during the debate. He reiterated his belief that Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme and said any suggestion that Social Security will exist for young workers is a ‘monstrous lie.’ That led Romney’s campaign to declare that Perry has already lost.

He has lost. No federal candidate has ever won on the Perry program to kill Social Security. Never has. never will.

Yet, declaring Perry’s campaign to be doomed doesn’t make it true. If he were to win on this platform, he’d have a mandate to eviscerate the New Deal, including Social Security. And, right how, he has a big lead in the polls against his opponents, including Romney.

According to Nate Silver, Perry’s lead is based on the impression that he is electable. If that’s the case, his position on Social Security could undermine his frontrunner status. Yet, what’s clear is that the Republican electorate is not happy with Romney, and no one else appears remotely electable.

As for the merits of Perry’s critique of Social Security, so long as there is no lockbox, Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme. We give our money to the government and a bond is created. The bond doesn’t belong to us. The money is spent on general revenues, working as an effective subsidy for rich people because it allows a lower tax rate than would be required if the government didn’t have Social Security funds to spend. Then, when the government looks at the costs of Social Security (repaying all the money they stole from the system) they decide that they need to reduce the benefits or raise the retirement age. That doesn’t mean that the money won’t be there for young workers, but it does mean that they’re not going to get what they’ve been promised. The problem could be fixed quite easily by raising marginal tax rates or by increasing how much income is subject to the FICA tax. But, that would require the Republican Party to go away.