The economic crash of 2008 clearly didn’t help John McCain’s chances of becoming president. But his decision to “suspend” his campaign at the beginning of the crisis is remembered, along with his “game-changing” choice of running-mate Sarah Palin, as the worst strategic blunders of his campaign. The selection of Paul Ryan by Mitt Romney combines both of these blunders into one massive mistake.
You can discern what the Rove-era Republicans view as their most troubling weakness by noting whatever they attack. Their full-court press on the credibility of Joe Biden proves that the right knows Romney’s choice of Ryan hasn’t resulted in a bounce and carries tremendous downside risk.
For months, Romney had vowed to make this election entirely about the economy. And in the heat of August he chose Paul Ryan and changed the game.
Ryan has none of the tabloid drama of a Palin pick. He’s used to answering questions and humoring reporters. His kids aren’t about to become teen parents and/or abstinence spokespersons. But his arrival shook up this campaign in a way that Romney couldn’t have wanted.
With Palin, the burbling celebration curdled into buyer’s remorse within a few weeks after the Republican convention. With Ryan, that same emotion has taken hold among Republican insiders two weeks before their convention.
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The Ryan Record
Ryan voted for just about everything George W. Bush wanted. He was even a supporter of Bush’s plan to turn Social Security over to Wall Street, three years before the work stock market crash in half a century. In Congress, Ryan only passed two inconsequential bills of his own. Though he didn’t want to admit it, he sought stimulus funds for his district.Ryan is one of the few members of Congress who actually has less foreign affairs experience than Mitt Romney does.
Just as Palin muddled McCain’s “experience” message, Ryan muddles Romney’s business message.
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Paul Ryan is only famous for one thing: his budget. A budget that many Republicans are already running from. The Ryan budget passed the House twice in slightly different forms, but both included massive cuts to all government programs in order to pay for new tax breaks, mostly for the richest. This plan represents exactly the kind of extremism that turns off swing voters. And now voters in every Congressional district in America will have a chance to say what they think about the Ryan plan. The ideal running mate doesn’t give voters something to vote against.
Although Palin (like Ryan) originally supported the “Bridge to Nowhere,” at least she had no federal legislative record that her opponents could dissect.
The most controversial part of Ryan’s budget — which has already cost the GOP a marginal House seat — is his plan to shrink Medicare into a “premium support” model that gives seniors a fixed voucher to purchase health insurance. The first version of the plan would cost seniors around $6,000 more a year than current Medicare. The corresponding Medicaid cuts would strand millions of seniors who use the program to pay for Medicare deductibles and nursing homes.
Is this really what Mitt wants to be talking about? Today he brought out a white board to explain how he’d save Medicare for current and future generations. By repealing Obamacare and its savings, however, he would make Medicare insolvent by the end of his first term.
If you’re a Republican talking about Medicare in a general election, you’re probably losing. McCain never had to go there.
Ryan v. Ryan
Someone, perhaps Mitt himself, must have figured that if Romney is running against RomneyCare, Ryan could run against the Ryan budget. The Congressman is already blasting cuts that he made in his own budget. Ryan is a conservative pundit’s dream candidate because he doesn’t have the “moderate” baggage of a Mitt Romney. That’s probably why Romney selected him. But by breaking the GOP’s cold heart and making Ryan reject his own “masterpiece,” the favorable response from the party base will slowly dissipate.
Palin only grew more conservative and strident as the campaign went on.
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It’s a Trap
Mitt Romney only picked Paul Ryan because President Obama picked him first. Ezra Klein points out that it was the President who made Paul Ryan a national figure after the Ryan budget was released. Having endured three years of mindless partisan opposition to everything he did, the President saw a chance to highlight Republican ideology. Ryan’s budget became Obama’s perfect foil. Klein argues that the risk in highlighting Ryan is that the Congressman’s plan is more likely to pass. The plan passed Congress twice and as Grover Norquist said, “We just need a president who can sign the legislation that the Republican House and Senate pass.”
By elevating Ryan, the President forced Republicans to actually run on the policies they hope to implement. That’s good for America—but terrible for Mitt Romney.
At least McCain picked Palin for his own reasons.
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