Mitt Romney is spending his summer doing exactly what a presidential candidate doesn’t want to be doing: wooing his base.
The only groups of people among whom he’s confidently leading are married white men and women, and yet his attacks on welfare and the birth control mandate appeal pretty much only to married white and women. For a guy who was planning on being an Etch-a-Sketch, he’s only shaking himself further to right, trying to win over the people who are going to vote for him anyway. He’s badly in need of some improvement to his image and his running mate pick is his best chance.
The problem is his base wants him to pick one man: Paul Ryan. The Wall Street Journal took the extraordinary step of endorsing the Wisconsin congressman as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee on its Wednesday editorial page: “The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election.”
If that’s true, Mitt Romney is in trouble. Here’s why he will never pick Paul Ryan to be the Cheney to his Bush. (And if he does, why it will be a terrible blunder.)
1. Two words: Ryan Budget
James Carville and Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corp’s recent study “100 Days Out” identifies three huge weaknesses in Ryan’s House budget that make it toxic for Republicans, which could possibly result in a wave election for Democrats: 1) It allows low-income tax credits to expire; 2) It gives tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting programs relied upon by the poor; 3) It dictates huge cuts and changes to Medicare that will end up costing both seniors and the taxpayers trillions more than traditional Medicare. While on the ropes in the GOP primary, Mitt embraced all three of these policies. If he selects Ryan, Democrats will hang his budget on Romney like an gold-plated sign that says, “I’m only for the .01%.”
2. Ayn Rand or Thomas Aquinas
You probably know that Paul Ryan is known for being a fan of the late abortion-loving atheist Ayn Rand. He once called her the reason he got into politics. When the “War on Religion” talking point emerged in the GOP earlier this year and Ryan recognized that he might be seriously considered for VP, he changed his story. “I reject her philosophy,” Ryan said firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas.” Any look at Ryan’s voting record will reveal which thinker his beliefs most closely resemble.
3. Wisconsin isn’t in play
The Romney campaign hasn’t run ads in Wisconsin in weeks. Outside groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS are still airing ads in the Badger State, hoping that Scott Walker’s recall win wasn’t just a rejection of recalls. The President is up by five percent in the state, and the three percent at most that Ryan might give Romney won’t fix that.
4. Mitt will look weak
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum nailed what RyanMania is all about: “The clamor you are hearing for Paul Ryan for VP is not about helping the Romney candidacy. It’s about controlling the Romney campaign—and ultimately the Romney presidency.” The people who want Mitt to pick Ryan are the people who never wanted Mitt in the first place. If Mitt gives in to these voices now, at least he’ll be able to blame them when he loses.
5. Mitt wants to win
For activist Democrats, Paul Ryan is the symbol of everything that’s wrong with a shrill, heartless GOP that cares only about easing the tax burden on the richest at the expense of everyone else. The Obama campaign has been busy portraying Mitt Romney as that exact guy. To America, Ryan is another boring white guy in a suit from a rich family. If America starts to see Ryan as the real source of Romney’s worst ideas, the empathy gap that’s keeping the President ahead despite the sluggish economy will only get deeper for Mitt. This is why picking a regular Republican like Rob Portman is a safer pick, even if Portman carries the lingering stink of the Bush administration. At least his biggest claim to fame isn’t his plan to gut the one government program even Tea Partiers love.