Much of the mainstream media analysis of the Paul Ryan selection as the Republican vice-presidential candidate has been predictable. Ryan is hailed as a ‘serious’ thinker with a ‘bold’ vision for tackling America’s allegedly biggest problem, the budget deficit. They say that his pick signals the start of a serious debate on economic policy.
This is bunk.
Far from being a serious economic thinker, Ryan is an rigid Randian ideologue who seeks to complete the process of the further enrichment of the wealthy and the impoverishment of the middle class while also depriving the poor and elderly of whatever meager support they currently have. Kris Benson spells out some of the toxic elements of Ryan’s budget/tax plan. Taegan Goddard points out that Ryan’s selection makes Romney’s tax problems even worse since under it Romney would pay at a rate of only 0.82%.
What I do know is that anyone who believes in Ryan’s carefully cultivated image as a brave, honest policy wonk has been snookered. Mark Thoma reviews selected pieces I’ve written about Ryan; he is, in fact, a big fraud, who doesn’t care at all about fiscal responsibility, and whose policy proposals are sloppy as well as dishonest. Of course, this means that he’ll fit in to the Romney campaign just fine.
Thoma himself adds:
If you think the middle class has it too good, too much security, taxes aren’t high enough, not enough fear of unemployment, too much help for education, and so on, while the wealthy haven’t been coddled enough in recent years, not enough tax cuts, too little upward redistribution of income, not enough bank bailouts, etc., etc., then the Republican proposals should make you happy.
If the Democrats can’t make Ryan’s views on Medicare and Social Security an issue in the campaign, if they allow Republicans to falsely claim that they are trying to save these critical programs rather than cutting them as much as they can get away with, they deserve to lose.
Even Daniel Larison of The American Conservative is not enthusiastic about the Ryan selection.
In terms of political risk in the general election, choosing Ryan is certainly bold, but at the same time it is not a very surprising outcome. In the end, Romney gravitated to the one person on his reported short list that would generate enthusiasm among movement conservatives, and in so doing managed to sabotage his campaign’s theme of competence and readiness.
Replace Ryan with Palin and Romney with McCain and Larison’s words could have been written in 2008, reinforcing the view that this was an uncharacteristic gamble by Mitt Romney to shake up his losing campaign and energize his base, just like John McCain tried to do with Sarah Palin.
This prompts the immediate question of why the Romney camp would choose a strategy that had already failed in the previous election cycle, My feeling was that they must have felt that the previous incarnation of this strategy failed because of idiosyncrasies associated with Palin. With Ryan they may have thought they had someone who was more disciplined and would stay on message, knew how politics worked at the national level and how to deal with the national press, and thus less likely to make the rookie stumbles that got the Palin launch off to such a rotten start.
Noam Scheiber has an different take. He thinks the Ryan pick is ‘lunacy’ because Romney already had locked up the kinds of voters who would like Ryan,
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.
This is something that I too said back in April, that “rank and file Republicans will vote for the party no matter what because they cannot conceive of voting Democratic and that Fox News can be relied upon to deliver these people. The extreme nutcases that are so vocal in the party have become so unhinged in their Obama hatred that they would vote for the Republican ticket even if Romney were to pick Charles Manson to be his running mate.”
Scheiber continues with his theory of why Romney went against that thinking. He feels that the Romney camp has already decided that they were going to lose in November whatever they did, and felt they needed to avoid blame. Thus the Ryan selection, rather than being an uncharacteristically bold move by Romney, instead reflects his risk-averse nature.
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.
As he points out, this has a Pascal’s wager flavor to it. If they lose, they avoid blame. If, against all odds, they win, they will be seen as strategic geniuses.
It’s not a bad theory.