Today on MSNBC’s Weekends with Alex Witt, I said the Paul Ryan pick is helpful to Mitt Romney’s campaign in the short term, but a net negative in the long term (if you can call 80-plus days long term). Here’s why…
Besides the fact that he hangs the albatrosses of vouchercare and an unpopular congress around Romney’s neck, he also locks Romney into a set of ideological imperatives of movement conservatives, who — let’s be clear — see Romney as the passenger, not the driver, for their national/ideological ambitions.
And so, much like Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan is viewed by the base as the real top of the ticket. He’s the one they are excited about voting for. Romney, like McCain in 2008, is merely the means to get the base’s preferred candidate into a position of power. After that, Romney, who is still not trusted by two of the three legs of the GOP base (the movement/economic libertarian wing and the evangelical wing – he has a lock on the plutocrat/corporate wing) — will be permitted to be the guy “with enough working digits to hold a pen and sign the Ryan budget” into law, as Grover Norquist said.
The question is, does Romney know that? And does his campaign team know it? And will they explain to Romney that it is now his job to defend the Ryan plan, not to belatedly try to sell one of his own? So far, Romney has been so thoroughly, and negatively, defined by the Obama campaign and their allies, nobody (including hones Republicans) can explain his plan, beyond cutting taxes for the rich and, per the Tax Policy Center, raising them on everyone else. So to put it bluntly, THERE IS NOTHING BUT THE RYAN PLAN. It’s what Democrats were planning to savage him on anyway. And now he’s gone and hired its author.
Does Romney understand that that’s where he is?
Signs point to “no.” This from Erick Erickson of Redstate, today:
Today, the Romney camp sent out a talking points sheet claiming that while picking Paul Ryan, Romney had his own budget plans. This is delusional and not credible spin. You pick Paul Ryan, you defend his budget. It is that simple. That one bullet point sums up a summer of dysfunction. The Romney team seems to be believing its own spin, which can often lead to disaster.
When you’ve got to say, “hey, I picked this guy to be my sidekick but I’m really my own man, not HIS sidekick,” you’ve got trouble. And when your supposed troops are saying, “nah, dude, you ARE his sidekick,” Katie, bar the door…
Now, I’m not saying Paul Ryan should be the nominee, or that he’s more qualified to be president than Romney. He’s not Sarah Palin unqualified, but one could argue he may not be “day one” ready (though in fairness, who is? And Barack Obama was young and untested too in 2008.) But more than ever, becoming president is about mobilizing a passionate fan base. Ryan has the capability to do that with Libertarian/Ayn Randers, tea party types and other movement conservatives. Romney, frankly, doesn’t.
And if he tries to force Ryan to fit into the mold of Romneyism, whatever that is, rather than accepting that by picking him, he has agreed to fit into Ryanism, I predict unpleasant results, as the GOP base sees itself being Palined all over again. On the other hand, if Ryan decides, like Palin, to run on his own brand, rather than Mitt’s (essentially “going rogue,”) we’re looking at McCain 2008 all over again.
(Just ponder, for a moment, the Freudian implications of Mitt introducing Ryan as the next PRESIDENT of the United States…)
Either way, it’s clear that picking Ryan was high risk, high reward for Romney, with the tilt definitely toward “risk.”
UPDATE: For more on Romney “having his own plan,” see Mediate. Amazing that Mitt is running away from the Ryan budget just hours after picking him. The Machiavellian read would be that Romney’s goal is really to neutralize Ryan and his toxic budget, rendering both inert by sucking them into his campaign, and forcing Ryan to switch to selling something called “The Romney Plan,” which I’m guessing will not include vouchers. I doubt that will wash with the base. But we shall see.
UPDATE 2: some of the best takes on the Romney pick:
Noem Schieber of TNR says it will allow Mitt to blame conservatives when he loses.
Ezra Klein made essentially the same point a few days ago, and added a version of the Machiavellian meme I posited in Update 1 (neutralize Ryan by taking him out of the House…)
TNR also posts the six big things you need to know about Ryan.
The Beast’s Daniel Gross declares Romney-Ryan the empathy-free ticket
And Michael Tomasky continues calling Mitt a coward. He also agrees with my upside-down ticket theory. (Romney is the number 2)
Howard Fineman posts the anonymous reservations of a conservative who seems to be a professional strategist (Steve Schmidt? Or maybe Mike Murphy, who tweeted this on Friday, and wanted Portman?) BTW, I don’t see anyone complaining about HIS anonymous source…
But Wonkette probably sums it up the best. Succinct and brutal.