More on the Ryan selection

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%.

Economist Paul Krugman has been ripping into Ryan’s budget plans from the start and his immediate reaction to the Ryan pick was scathing.

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.


  1. says

    “This prompts the immediate question of why the Romney camp would choose a strategy that had already failed in the previous election cycle”

    Because authoritarians don’t learn from history. The authors of the ‘war on drugs’ need only have gone back 70 years to the prohibition era to find out how and why their modern day take on it would fail. These people aren’t planners. Likew most sociopaths or people with sociopathic tendencies only the shallowest of things within arms reach interest them.

  2. slc1 says

    Many commentators consider the recent decline in Romney’s fortunes ascribable to the negative ads that the Obama folks have been running. Obama has taken a page out of the swift boaters campaign against Kerrey in 2004 and Harry Truman’s campaign in 1948, namely give ’em hell and blame the problems in the economy on the Rethuglican House of Representatives. As was proved in those campaign, negative ads work.

  3. left0ver1under says

    More on the Ryan selection

    I misread the title.

    I thought you said Moron: the Ryan selection.

  4. smhll says

    This prompts the immediate question of why the Romney camp would choose a strategy that had already failed in the previous election cycle

    I’m starting to suspect that Romney, having been the boss so much of his life, is absolute crap at taking advice from people who know more about politics than he does. (However, I suppose if he wins the election, I’ll need to apologize for misjudging the situation.)

    I look at the Ryan selection and don’t see it bringing any swing voters to Romney. But I’m so far left I can’t see the middle, so I certainly could be wrong.

  5. eigenperson says

    The Republicans want to craft an image of their party as the “party of ideas.” But, as we saw with the catastrophic Gingrich primary campaign, the Republicans face risks when they bring their supposed “serious thinkers” under the microscope, because they are neither serious nor thinkers. If enough of these “idea men” are revealed as vacuous frauds, that image will be irretrievably lost.

  6. Jockaira says

    By now it is obvious to anyone with a more-than-two-digit IQ that Romney has less chance of winning this election than he has of telling the truth for any particular 24-hour period. The strangeness of his selection can only be a tacit admission that he will lose, and then will have to reposition himself for another grab at the brass ring in 2016.

    By then his bonafides for the extremely wealthy and seriously hated will be firmly established and he will be able to lie like a m*****-*****r to the simpletons he is sure will vote for him. Of course having those wealthy creds will guarantee him a monstrously large war chest of contributions from the 1%’s, many of whom are just as simple-minded as Romney’s other rank-and-file faithful.

    Gotta give it to him…He’s discovered a way to make a big paycheck without having a job or even being elected to an office.

  7. M Groesbeck says

    Jockaira @ 7 —

    By now it is obvious to anyone with a more-than-two-digit IQ

    In other words…half? (IQ 100 is designed as both mean and median — and they keep having to update the tests to maintain that.) And it’s not like the skills required to evaluate political candidates effectively are a major focus of IQ tests; whiteness and class status are selected for, empathy and bullshit-detection are not.

  8. says

    There are important differences between Ryan and Palin. For one, Ryan has already been a national figure, so strategists have a pretty good idea how people of various political stripes are going to react to him. Which, you know, maybe contributes to part of the argument why he is not a good choice, but I don’t think there’s going to be any huge surprises. There is also the fact that, as you say, Ryan is “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…” I don’t want to play that point up too much, though, because of the third and most important way in which Ryan and Palin are different:

    Palin’s a woman, and therefore when she is an idiot, people are going to call her an idiot and be really angry and derisive about it. In contrast, Ryan’s penis gives him some leeway to be an idiot without drawing nearly as much public ire for it. The gender-related disadvantages from Palin came from all sides, too: Unexamined misogynist attitudes made people more likely to judge her quickly and harshly; while in my experience many women feminists were (justifiably!) enraged to have a powerful woman in the media who was such a goddamn idiot.

    There’s not going to be an “I can see Russia from my house” moment in this campaign, first because Ryan is (probably) just experienced enough to avoid such a gaffe, and second because even if he did say something that dumb, there would be less of a rush to condemn him as an irretrievable moron.

    (To be clear, I am not endorsing the right-wing meme that liberals only hated Palin because she was a woman. Palin’s treatment by the media was harsher due to her gender than it would otherwise have been, but I will not say it was “too” harsh. Really, the problem is less that conservative women are attacked for their unworkable and grossly offensive policy positions, but that conservative men aren’t attacked enough for those same backwards politics.)


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