NEW YORK -- New York Times columnist Paul Krugman didn't name names in Monday's column calling out "centrist" defenders of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, but signs point to two fellow Times writers: David Brooks and James Stewart.
In "The Gullible Center," Krugman knocked those commentators whose "self-image, and to a large extent their professional selling point, depends on posing as high-minded types standing between the partisan extremes, bringing together reasonable people from both parties -- even if these reasonable people don't actually exist."
So does the moderate conservative Brooks see himself as the "centrist" in question?
"I really can't comment on a colleague's column," Brooks told The Huffington Post. "Tough enough to keep up with my own."
Well, if Brooks hasn't been keeping up, here's a brief rundown.
On Friday, Brooks slammed President Obama for his harsh critique of Ryan's budget days earlier, arguing that the president had taken the low road and distorted Ryan's proposal. Stewart suggested in a Saturday column that Obama's criticism was part of the "overheated partisan rhetoric" on the left surrounding Ryan's budget plan.
That same day, Krugman fired off a blog post about "Ryan apologists," arguing that they come in two types.
"One type is the pseudo-reasonable apparatchik. There are a fair number of pundits who make a big show of debating the issues, stroking their chins, and then -- invariably -- find a way to support whatever the GOP line may be. There's no mystery in their support for Ryan.
"The other type is more interesting: the professional centrist. These are people whose whole pose is one of standing between the extremes of both parties, and calling for a bipartisan solution. The problem they face is how to maintain this pose when the reality is that a quite moderate Democratic party -- one that is content to leave tax rates on the rich far below those that prevailed for most of the past 70 years, that has embraced a Republican health care plan -- faces a radical-reactionary GOP.
Both types of Ryan defenders, Krugman argued, need "reasonable Republicans" for their arguments to work, and thus they've elevated "a garden-variety GOP extremist, but with a mild-mannered style" to that role.
In Monday's column, Krugman reused that "garden-variety" line and wrote that commentators cannot "admit that the president's critique is right" because they'd also be admitting "they were snookered by Mr. Ryan, who is the same as he ever was." Admitting such, he writes, would "call into question their whole centrist shtick."
Krugman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the aforementioned pieces. Editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal did not respond to a question about Times policy on criticizing fellow columnists by name. While there may not be an "official" rule against bashing one another, columnists may be holding back in the name of Timesian civility.
But this isn't the first time there's appeared to be some thinly veiled sparring between Krugman and Brooks -- also involving Obama and Ryan.
Last April, Brooks suggested in a column that Obama and Ryan -- "two of the smartest, most admirable and most genial men in Washington" -- should meet for lunch and hash out policy differences. But Obama, he noted, never extended such an invitation. Krugman then responded in a column that the "civility police" are complaining that Obama is being too partisan by speaking on behalf of Democratic ideals and want the president to instead "have a lunch with" his opponents.
Next, Brooks wrote a column that was ostensibly about Donald Trump, but that led with a critique of people who have the "luxury of being freely obnoxious" and who, each day, "take their own abrasive urges out for parade." Such people, he wrote, live in the "realm of Upper Blowhardia."
Jonathan Chait, writing in the New Republic, said that the column "reflect[s] what I strongly suspect is Brooks' view of Krugman." But like Krugman on Monday, Brooks didn't name names.