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Just One Reason to Pick Ryan: Blame the Loss on Conservatives

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There are two ways to think about Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan this morning. The first is how it affects Romney’s prospects for winning in November. The second is how it affects the internal struggle between conservatives and moderates within the GOP.

Regarding the first question, the Ryan pick is, of course, lunacy. Ryan’s claim to fame is a long-term budget blueprint that would massively cut Medicare over the coming decades while essentially zeroing out domestic spending on everything else but defense. It would pair this unprecedented austerity with enormous tax cuts for the wealthy. All of these things are, to varying degrees, wildly unpopular. Which makes it hardly surprising that the only time the Ryan budget actually came before voters—in a 2011 congressional special election in upstate New York—it was a political disaster, handing a safe Republican district to a little-known Democrat. 

The argument that Ryan could help Romney in November hinges on the enthusiasm conservatives have for him, and on his personal political dexterity. But, whatever conservative elites may tell themselves, Romney’s problems are emphatically not with the right, which is already highly motivated thanks to its mania over ousting Obama. As one top Republican operative recently told me, “the base’s hatred of the president is so intense that [Romney] has all kinds of room to maneuver.” Rather, Romney’s problem is his historically dismal standing among undecided voters, which Ryan will only weaken. 

As for Ryan’s political talent—well, he’s undeniably talented at something. He’s managed to charm the political press corps by putting a reasonable face on extreme policies and routinely wins plaudits as the most thoughtful man in Washington. Unfortunately for the GOP, the relationship between this talent and the talent you need as the front-man for a national political ticket is exceedingly weak. Writing in anticipation of a possible Ryan pick, Jon Chait explained: “The major argument of my profile of Ryan from last spring is that his public persona is a giant scam; but pulling off a scam like that is the mark of a skillful pol.” No, it’s not. It’s the mark of a skillful political operative. And if being a skillful operative could put you in the Oval Office, my family would be visiting the Karl Rove Presidential Library on our vacation this summer. Alas, we are not. 

Having said all that, there is a rationale for picking Ryan. It just has little to do with strengthening Romney’s chances this fall. In recent weeks, the presidential race has fundamentally changed. Where the polling once showed Obama with a consistent but easily-surmountable lead, it now shows the race moving out of reach for Romney. As the sober minds at NBC’s political unit put it yesterday:

[W]hen the Olympics began, we wrote that we were basically at halftime of the general election -- and Obama had a narrow lead. Well, it’s a little bigger than that now. (People may want to quibble, but you can’t dismiss every poll on sampling.) There’s clearly movement toward the president and clearly problems for Romney personally.

Predictably, this development has unnerved conservatives, who correctly view Team Romney as whiffing on a once-in-a-generation chance against an incumbent president (albeit for the wrong reasons). The most recent outburst resulted in a fatwa against Romney’s perfectly anodyne press secretary, who had the temerity to channel Romney’s pride over his Massachusetts health care law, which is undeniable

So, to review, the key recent development is that Romney is poised to lose a race he should by all rights be winning, and conservatives are poised to blame this loss on his ideological moderation. (He not only gave people health care, he wants credit for it!). Against this backdrop, the rationale for the Ryan pick strikes me as pretty clear: Ryan is the way Romney and his aides escape blame for their now-likely defeat—blame which would have vicious and unrelenting—and pin it in on conservatives instead. With only minor historical revisions, they will be able to tell a story about how Romney was keeping the race close through early August, at which point the party’s conservative darling joined the ticket and sent the poll numbers into steady decline. 

According to this narrative, the campaign will merely be guilty of a political misdemeanor—being bullied by conservatives into a lousy running mate—not the felony of strategically miscalculating against a historically weak incumbent (which is where the existing storyline was headed). That’s a plea bargain any right-minded politico would take, even if they didn’t consciously consider it in those terms. Moreover, there’s a whiff of Pascal’s Wager to the whole gambit: God (in this case, political salvation through ideological extremism) may not exist. But you don’t lose anything by pretending he does. And, who knows, he may surprise you!

Better still, this won’t just be good for Romney’s historical reputation, and for the future career prospects of his campaign team. It will be good for the entire GOP. Pre-Ryan, a Romney loss would have led to the nomination of a Neanderthal in 2016—someone, like Rick Santorum, who could say he warned the party against a candidate too moderate to take on Obama. Post-Ryan, a Romney loss will be read as a Goldwater-esque act of ideological self-immolation, which the party must resist at all costs if it hopes to win another election. Paradoxically, the Ryan pick is both selfish and selfless at the same time. 

What it isn’t, as all the commentators keep insisting, is “bold.” It’s a highly risk-averse move—one that assumes a loss and tries to make the best of it. In that respect, Romney is staying true to himself till the bitter end. 

Update: Credit where due--Ezra Klein made a similar point a few days ago. I'd say "great minds," but his is vastly greater than mine... 

Update II: See my follow-up item here, in which I deal with a lot of reader comments.

Yes, I'm aware this is a biased blog and I'm not saying I agree or disagree at this point. I suck at predictions. Just thought it made some interesting points and could make for interesting discussion.



Thank's Friday!!!

by on Aug. 12, 2012 at 1:07 AM
Replies (11-20):
by on Aug. 12, 2012 at 9:42 AM

Of course it was a bold political move...and an awesome one at that!!  It's the same political move Obama made in chosing Biden...although he actually chose poorly. 

Quoting rfurlongg:

I agree. I think that us precisely why he chose Ryan.

Quoting cammibear:

Ryan isn't running for President, Romney is. Romney is not considered conservative by many people, including myself. Moderates never win. If people buy that Romney is shifting conservative, he has a chance. If he's because Moderates never win. Those are my thoughts. :)

by on Aug. 12, 2012 at 9:50 AM
They are discussing this right now on meet the press with a mixed panel. Interesting to hear all the different takes and analysis...
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by Captain Underpants on Aug. 12, 2012 at 9:56 AM

This seems redundant somehow to me (not the article). Here, we have a lukewarm Republican candidate (hello John McCain) who has picked a very...vocal, shall we say?...running mate (I see you Sarah Palin!). Romney is very middle of the road for the Republican party, much like McCain. And, like McCain, he has picked a running mate that will appeal to a small part of the Republican voters and that may drive off some of the on-the-fence voters (who are often the telling voters in an election). Hmmmm... it will be an interesting election. Only time will tell, I suppose. I personally don't like Ryan because he has internal conflict in two issues that concern me, energy and the environment. He is claiming to be an avid outdoorsman, yet would like to cut spending to key programs, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is a promoter for more drilling, fracking, and the Keystone pipeline. I wonder how he manages to keep such conflicting ideologies from driving him mad?

by Silver Member on Aug. 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM
1 mom liked this
Bahahaha OMG thank you for the laugh!

Quoting Naturewoman4:

All this going around & around on why Romney picked Ryan is getting alittle silly for me.  For me, I know why he picked Ryan & it's quite clear.  Romney has the Business experience to turn our economy around, put Americans back to work & bring jobs back into the U.S.  IMO he is the best Candidate to achieve that.  As soon as he is Elected President, he will make it his No. 1 priority, unlike what Obama did when he first took office. 

 That first yr. when Obama took office, I knew I voted for the wrong person.  Because, he had the House/Senate, yet he did nothing to turn our Economy around.  Instead, he focused on HIS Obamacare.  I knew right then & there, this Country was in trouble.  Choosing Ryan was the perfect choice as VP, IMO.  Ryan was the ONLY one that layed out a Budget Plan.  Obama did NOTHING!  His whole 4 yrs. he did NOTHING!

  Although, maybe Ryan's plan is not perfect, but he has shown the seriousness of what this Country is in & is heading towards.  That is another Greece.  He won't lie, unlike Obama, to get votes.  Ryan has the experience in Economics to he will bring that experience & make an excellant VP.  Romney great Businessman & Ryan great economist.  Exactly what this Country needs RIGHT NOW to turn this Country around.  I feel that the Dems. are just afraid.  People are afraid of both these men.  Why? 

 They are afraid that they WILL do the job, that Obama so failed to do.  They are afraid that Obama will go down as perhaps the worse President we've ever had.  Alot of Obama supporters are afraid, Romney will succeed & put Americans back to work.  Because, they are afraid they might just have to get up from their lazy ass butts & WORK!  That's why SO many Americans are AFRAID of Romney/Ryan.  IMO

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by Silver Member on Aug. 12, 2012 at 10:20 AM
4 moms liked this
Romney is trying to please the people who were going to vote for him anyway.
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by Ruby Member on Aug. 12, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Rather, Romney’s problem is his historically dismal standing among undecided voters, which Ryan will only weaken.


by Ruby Member on Aug. 12, 2012 at 10:52 AM
2 moms liked this

I cannot even consider voting for a Republican ticket because of their views on women.

by Platinum Member on Aug. 12, 2012 at 10:53 AM
2 moms liked this
You can call the article biased, and it very well might be. However, that does not make it incorrect. This thread as well as the other one that is currently going is demonstrative of that. It energized those that were already strongly in support of Romney. It is hardly the choice for swing voters. Frankly I am kind of mystified by it. The voting bloc most wary of Ryan is seniors, for obvious reasons. Seniors turn out in big numbers. Moreover, seniors are a huge segment of the Florida electorate, a swing state that if it goes to Obama all but guarantees him the election in and of itself.

Time will tell but I think this article might turn out to be spot-on.
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by Platinum Member on Aug. 12, 2012 at 11:03 AM

Your side did the same thing with Biden but I'm sure you didn't question why then.

Quoting LoveMyBoyK:

I honestly question why the left is SO busy finding reasons to discredit Ryan and spending so much time bashing the man if they honestly do not think him a threat.

by Whoopie on Aug. 12, 2012 at 11:07 AM
1 mom liked this

Quoting ms-superwoman:

Romney is trying to please the people who were going to vote for him anyway.


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