Paul Ryan As Vice Presidential Candidate
We were convinced that Romney would pick a boring white guy as a running mate. That seemed to be the safe choice. Romney’s strategy was to make the election a referendum on Obama’s economic performance, and selecting a running mate with a high policy profile seemed to detract from that. Ryan appeared to be a lightning rod. It was too easy to see the Democratic commercials with Ryan (and then Romney) pushing Grandma off the cliff.
And, until this past Saturday, Romney has been anything but bold.
So we were surprised. Shocked would be too strong, but only slightly.
But we political scientists can usually explain things after they happen, even if we can’t predict them beforehand.
So it may have been relevant that Romney’s former strategy did not seem to be working. Obama chronically led in the polls. Given the state of the economy, he should not have. But he did.
So if you can’t win by making the election a referendum on the incumbent, why not make it a battle of rival political philosophies? That’s what the Ryan pick did. It is a high-risk choice, but just might have a high reward.
At first glance, it seems that the Romney campaign will have a major problem selling the Ryan budget to the public. In no democracy do people like to be told that the goodies they are getting from government are unsustainable, and must be taken back. Not that the Ryan budget takes back much. Mostly it just limits the growth of government. But in politics, that translates as a “cut.” If a program now costs 300 billion dollars, and it projected to cost 500 billion dollars in four years, and somebody proposes to limit it to 400 billion, that’s a 100 billion “cut.”
Even in Greece, where the gross over-extension of the welfare state has gone much further than here, voters are having trouble accepting that they can’t have all the goodies they want from government. They riot. They blame international bankers. When the Germans refuse to bail them out, they trot out allusions to Nazism.
It’s not that the specifics of the Ryan plan are that toxic. Once one explains to people that it won’t affect anybody older than age 55, that doesn’t seem so bad. The idea that old people will get to buy insurance from competing private insurance companies doesn’t seem too bad either – everybody buys auto insurance that way.
But the question is whether anybody will pay much attention to the specifics. Seniors, remember, oppose Obamacare in virtually every poll. That’s not so much because they are conservative as because they are risk averse. Any change threatens to make things worse, regardless of what any politician says.
But the same risk aversion that causes seniors to oppose Obamacare will likely make them skeptical of Ryan’s proposals. It may not matter how patiently it is explained.
On the Other HandBut there is an alternative scenario.
Sometimes the character and personality of a candidate can diffuse voter fears. It’s happened before. Ronald Reagan was portrayed by liberals as a reckless pro-military hawk who might start a nuclear war. But his amiable and easy-going mien in the debates with Jimmy Carter convinced people that he really wasn’t a rash war monger.
This was in sharp contrast with Barry Goldwater, who joked about lobbing a nuclear bomb into the men’s room of the Kremlin. Goldwater was sufficiently stern and even harsh in his comportment to make it all too easy to fear what he might do in a crisis.
This is why Ryan’s likability might just give the Romney/Ryan ticket a chance.
Ryan, as Rush Limbaugh put it, “may well be the last Boy Scout.” It will be hard to believe that he would do anything nasty to seniors, or that the limits he proposes for means tested programs are the result of callousness toward the poor – as opposed to a genuine concern with rapidly increasing dependency in this nation.
Add to this the fact that the Ryan choice seems to have energized the Romney campaign, and indeed to have energized Romney himself, who now seems to be speaking with vigor and energy. This may have been a brilliant choice.
But Then, On the Other HandBut then, it may have been a monumental blunder. Perhaps a couple of additional months of bad economic news would have finally put Romney in the lead. Romney has been raising lots of money, and perhaps the ads it could buy would have turned the tide.
But for better or worse, Romney has produced a bold, make-or-break choice.