Posts Tagged ‘Seinfeld Election’

Ryan Pick Is Turning Point for The Campaign

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Mitt Romney’s surprise pick of Paul Ryan to be his running mate may prove to be a significant turning point in the presidential campaign. While many Democrats (including myself) are looking forward to a debate on the plan to gut Medicare that Newt Gingrich called “Right Wing Social Engineering,” fiscal conservatives are excited to have an opportunity for a referendum election that would open up the possibility of a real mandate for their plans to dramatically cut the social safety net and re-distribute the tax burden in this country. Aside from the political consequences, it is clear that Ryan’s nomination offers an opportunity to refocus the country on a debate about the fundamental values that we want America to embody in the decades to come.

Steve Benen commented on Saturday that Democrats are practically giddy over the choice of Ryan. As I wrote previously, the key to Obama’s re-election was to shift the campaign away from a referendum on Barack Obama to a choice between two competing alternatives. The Bain attacks were the first part of this strategy, and with the softening up of Romney complete, Obama had already turned away from the focus on Romney’s business career and towards attacking his fiscal plans for the country. While “Romney Hood’s” own plans provided ample targets for Obama, a significant part of the campaign was to eventually be focused on tying Romney to the Republican Congress and Paul Ryan’s Plan to end the guaranteed health care provided by Medicare and transform the program to a voucher program. With the pick of Ryan, Romney has effectively done the Obama campaign’s work for them.

In the meantime, the Romney camp’s original assumption was that the economy was the number one issue and that a stalled (or slowly growing) economy would effectively turn the country against Barack Obama, and voters would then turn to Romney as a viable alternative just as they turned to Reagan in the last days of the 1980 race. In recent months it has apparently come to the Obama campaign’s attention that Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter and Mitt Romney is no Reagan: while Mitt Romney’s negatives continued to climb against the backdrop of the unrelenting attacks on his business experience and refusal to release his taxes, Obama largely maintained his standing and seemed to be widening his lead in a number of polls over the last week.

The fact that the usually conservative Mitt Romney campaign made the decision to go with such a high-risk pick  is in itself a tacit admission that their original strategy wasn’t working. As Ezra Klein notes “You don’t make a risky pick like Paul Ryan if you think the fundamentals favor your candidate. You make a risky pick like Paul Ryan if you think the fundamentals don’t favor your candidate.”

More importantly,

Ryan upends Romney’s whole strategy. Until now, Romney’s play has been very simple: Don’t get specific. In picking Ryan, he has yoked himself to each and every one of Ryan’s specifics….

It’s not just that Romney now has to defend Ryan’s budget. To some degree, that was always going to be true. What he will now have to defend is everything else Ryan has proposed. Ryan was, for instance, the key House backer of Social Security privatization. His bill, The Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005, was so aggressive that it was rejected by the Bush administration. Now it’s Romney’s bill to defend. In Florida.

Klein also argues that “the Romney campaign’s decision to pick Ryan (as opposed to Rob Portman of Ohio) is evidence that they feel they need to change the national dynamic, not just pick off a battleground state.” I agree with this sentiment, but there is still the possibility that the electoral college strategy was part of the calculation for Romney. A Romney win in Wisconsin would make Ohio or Virginia must wins for Obama, and a combination of Wisconsin and smaller states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and/or Colorado could become a winning strategy for the Romney campaign. Still, as Chuck Todd pointed out on Meet the Press today, while the Ryan pick moves Wisconsin from lean Democrat to the pure tossup category, it also opens other opportunities for Obama in states with aging populations like Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa as the campaign turns to a more traditional Democratic fight to save Medicare from (now very real) Republican assaults.

Like Ryan or not, one thing most people seem to agree on is that this is a ballsy pick for Romney. Ryan Lizza wrote that “Romney has made the most daring decision of his political career” and Alex Castellanos’ article on the pick was entitled “Romney mans up”: 

Sometimes… the smartest political thing to do is not the smartest political thing. It is, simply, the right thing for the country. A lot of Republicans and swing voters, as surprised by the Ryan choice as I was, will be energized that Mitt Romney manned-up, got serious, took a political risk for a purpose higher than himself, and chose a VP, not to help him win an election, but to renew our troubled country.

For that reason Ryan may also be brilliant politics. He is a serious, grown up choice when this country, in crisis, needs one.

This too is part of a re-branding strategy: after a campaign in which Romney was (and continues to be) pushed around by the right, his choice to turn into the Obama camp’s line of fire is an attempt to show political courage for one of the first times in his political life and to change the public’s image of him as weak and ineffectual.

Re-branding aside, the Ryan pick offers an important turning point for this campaign.  Mika Brezinski has called this cycle the Seinfeld election: an election campaign about nothing. Despite the high stakes for the country, we have been more focused on Mitt Romney’s taxes, whether he outsourced jobs at Bain, whether contraception should be covered by health insurance plans and whether Obama thinks business owners didn’t build their own business. These issues have their place, but they are peripheral to the debate about what kind of country we are going to have for decades to come.

The Ryan plan is a serious shift in the way our country percieves its responsibilities to the elderly and the less fortunate among us as well as who bears the tax burden in the country. It rightly deserves to be the focus of a debate. Politically speaking, the good news for Mitt Romney is that we’re not talking about his taxes anymore. The bad news is that we’ll now be talking about whether it makes sense to throw Medicare out the window in order to give more tax cuts to the top 2%. But there are political perils for President Obama as well. As the Ryan Budget increasingly occupies the debate, the President will face pressure to offer a realistic plan of his own (not to mention questions about why he hasn’t so far), which could alienate others in the electorate. Ryan provides risks for both sides, but also a potential upside for Americans hungering for a real debate on where we are headed as a country.