How Bad Was The Ryan Pick?
I first openly expressed my doubts about the value of Mitt Romney selecting House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice presidential running mate 10 days ago. Here's the money quote from that post:
But Ryan and his budgets will be extremely vulnerable in a campaign because they include significant changes in Medicare. In case anyone has forgotten, Medicare is such a political hot potato that it has successfully been used in recent elections by Democrats to criticize Republicans and by Republicans to criticize Democrats. Polls show that even tea party supporters don’t want Medicare spending reduced.
Having Ryan on the ticket will allow the debate to be changed from what the GOP wants to talk about — the budget — to what Democrats will quickly say is the Romney/Ryan effort to kill Medicare. To say the least, that would put the Republican ticket on the defensive.
I made one big mistake in that post: The GOP wants to talk about jobs more than it wants to talk about the budget. The point is the same, however: Having Ryan as the GOP candidate for vice president makes it much less likely that what Romney really wants to talk about -- unemployment, the deficit, whatever -- will be what's actually discussed. Instead, the debate over at least the next four weeks will be about Ryan's budget -- which House Republicans proudly approved and can't run away from -- that, if enacted, would make major changes in Medicare, the most politically popular program in the budget. The Ryan Medicare changes will easily be characterized and are very likely to be seen as extremely negative.
That would be enough on it's own to make Ryan a poor choice, but add to that:
1. Ryan being the vice presidential candidate takes away one of the issues Republicans have used very successfully against Democrats...that they haven't passed a budget for three years. The response from Democrats now will be that if it is a choice between Ryan's budget with it's big Medicare changes and no budget at all, we'll proudly take no budget.
2. In the immediate aftermath of the Ryan announcement, some analyses indicated that, if enacted, the tax portion of the Ryan plan would mean that Romney would pay no federal taxes whatsoever. That's a PR nightmare for the Romney campaign that obviously wants to change the story away from Romney's taxes because of the damage it has done to the campaign in recent weeks. Now, instead of changing the Romney tax story, Ryan is far more likely to reinvigorate it or, in journalistic terms, give it "legs."
3. The immediate spin about the Ryan choice was that Romney had already endorsed the Ryan budget and so was already going to have to talk about it. There was, therefore, no downside to selecting Ryan. That's nonsense. Does anyone really think Romney will be able to run away from the Ryan plan with its author as his hand-chosen vice presidential candidate? Better question: Does anyone really think the Democrats will let him?
4. The other immediate spin about the Ryan choice was that his Medicare changes won't be much of a political problem because of the Medicare reductions included in the Obama-supported and Supreme Court-validated Affordable Care Act. That also is nonsense. The Obama-supported changes are small and far less threatening than those proposed by Ryan. But, and far more important, what Ryan is proposing would come on top of what has already been enacted and Obama will simply be able to say that they are too much and need to be stopped.
5. Finally, polls show that Ryan is barely known outside a very small group of budget and political insiders and that will give the Obama campaign the opportunity to define him to voters. Unless the GOP moves quickly, the opportunity to get ahead of this will be lost and Romney and Ryan will have to respond to the negative image through the whole campaign.