GUT REACTIONS ABOUT MINI-MITT
Ok. I’ll be out of town this weekend, so I’m posting this a little early. Here are a few initial impressions of the Paul Ryan pick:
On the positive side of the ledger (from the standpoint of the GOP):
1. The GOP needed an infusion of life into a moribund campaign that was increasingly being defined by the Dems. Perhaps Rubio or Christie could have provided it, but honestly, I think Ryan has more GOP rock star potential because he truly can appeal to the entire Republican base. Ryan hits all their high notes. Going for a safer pick like Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman would have merely added to the impression that Mitt was staging a slumber party. In short, I thought it was the smart pick for the GOP.
2. Why the Hell are Obama and his minions talking about what a great guy Ryan is? Do they really want to praise him as a mensch? America doesn’t really know this guy. Now, thanks to his opponents, EVERYONE is saying that whether you agree with his views or not, Ryan is a decent and likeable guy. You don’t win elections very often by creating positive first impressions of your opponents.
3. Ryan and Romney look good together. Superficially, the Veep choice is a younger version of the Presidential nominee. They look like they come from the same tribe. Interestingly, Ryan is only 42, and yet nobody is complaining about his young age. It’s almost like he seems like a natural apprentice to Romney, who is a full generation older.
4. The bad news for Ryan and Romney is that neither has any foreign policy experience. The good news for them is that sadly, few voters care.
5. We can now see the Republicans’ potential path to victory: The economy continues to stagnate, and Romney continues to lead in the polls with respect to who can best fix it. The public gradually warms to Mitt as a person thanks in part to the fact that he is constantly praised by his highly likeable VP pick. Voter suppression efforts in states like Pennsylvania combined with a boost in the upper-Midwest from Ryan’s nomination give Mitt just the electoral boost that he needs to turn this into a toss-up. Obama loses his lead, and the public suddenly begins to ask the two key questions that the Romney folks want them to ask: (a) Are we better off now than we were four years ago? and (b) Did Obama perform well enough to merit re-election? It’s not surprising that on Intrade, Romney’s chances of victory have increased from 42 to 44 percent since the Ryan pick.
On the negative side of the ledger:
1. The ticket isn’t Ryan/Romney. It’s Romney/Ryan. We all know that Veep picks don’t fundamentally determine the outcome of Presidential elections (though they can help, like Gore helped Clinton in ‘92). In this case, Ryan’s willingness to take a specific stand on policy issues only reminds us that Romney either has two conflicting opinions or none at all on every issue. While Ryan comes across as a straight-shooting ideas guy, Romney remains a stealth candidate. If he wants to win, he is going to have to get more specific on what he intends to do.
2. How will Ryan’s pick play to the Independents whose support Romney needs? It remains unlikely that they will warm to Ryan’s policies, which aren’t exactly middle of the road. He is a total supply sider when it comes to economics. While he styles himself a deficit hawk, he hasn’t always voted like one. His ideas on Social Security and Medicare reform threaten the middle class and the middle aged, but as discussed below, he isn’t willing to take on the wallets of the very rich. That kind of unfairness cuts at the heart of his claim to be a “Reformer.” Finally, he’s likely to piss off a lot of women with his interest in legislating the idea that life begins at conception. The Democrats have a lot of weapons now that they didn’t have before.
3. Under Paul Ryan’s plan, Mitt Romney would have paid less than one percent in taxes. Think about that. You and I would be paying a tax rate that is many, many times higher than what zillionaire Mitt Romney would pay. Is that the kind of tax fairness that America wants? I suspect the Democrats are holding this one back for their convention – of all the points they could make about Ryan, this one might have the most bite (other than fear-mongering about Social Security and Medicare).
4. Mitt is still too unnatural a politician to take advantage of his Ryan pick. Just look at the dumb things he has done in the week after the selection. Rather than campaigning together with Ryan for the entire week, he has them part ways after only a day or two of joint appearances. And then he has his wife give an interview in which she gives an almost legalistic explanation as to why they aren’t releasing their taxes. As talented a politician as Ryan is, it is still Mitt’s job to make the sale, and the odds still indicate that he won’t do it – especially once the nation watches Obama flash that big smile at the convention.
Democrats are kidding themselves that the Ryan pick was a net positive for them. Romney was on the ropes, and Ryan lifted him off of them and back into the middle of the ring. But there’s only so much that Ryan can do for a guy who remains afraid to level with the country, whether it involves the taxes he has paid or the policies he intends to implement.
Ryan may indeed be the future of the Republican Party (a young Ronald Reagan, as some have suggested), and Romney would be well advised to spend as much time as possible standing next to the guy and hoping that the natural likeability of his newly adopted “son” transfers to himself. At the end of the day, though, Romney will probably need bleak economic news – or some other significant negative event in the world – if he hopes to prevail in November. Americans vote for Presidential candidates, not Vice Presidential candidates, and they tend to vote for the guy that they can best relate to. This year, that man is Barack Obama.