Update Friday pm PST: According to NBC News and now the AP, Romney's vp pick is Paul Ryan. So the answer is, yes, the Romney campaign is in panic mode about getting out the Rabid Right base.
Is the Romney campaign in panic mode? Update Thurs aft.: If so, with good reason. Three new polls say he's down by 7 to 9 points, and in one only a third believe he'll win. They seem to be unleashing their random attack ads sooner than expected, although they are fully in character with the Romney campaign so far, being composed of lies and racism. They are now trying to counter the Obama ad fingering Romney for paying a lower tax rate than most Americans and proposing tax policies to give himself an even bigger break--an ad that got the unusual Washington Post rating of being completely true--with an ad supposedly on Obama's policy on welfare that "takes a shameless distortion and turns it into an outright falsehood"--in other words is a complete lie. And it is the most overt play yet of the race card--the "food stamp president" dog whistle linking Obama to "his base" (Romney's words) of shiftless black people who he is favoring with free government money.
Romney's next political play is his v.p. pick, and as far away as I'd like to stay from this moronic topic, it almost got interesting this week. Last week the media Conventional Wisdom was that Romney was going to pick somebody bland and safe, Tim Polenta or more likely Rob Portman, a budget director under Bush (drawback) who is now a Senator from Ohio (a plus supposedly.) But early in the week there was a flurry of speculation and winger wish fulfillment about bolder if crazier choices. And the C.W. makes a strong argument for why.
Romney has probably two chances left to reverse the image that the Obama campaign has given him. The v.p. pick is first, his convention acceptance speech is second. If he doesn't do something to change the narrative with those, the debates may not matter (and since he can't talk substantively about anything, it's hard to see how he impresses anyone in the debates.) In his convention speech he has to open up, i.e. create a Romney character, and maybe even make some actual specific proposals. But his v.p. pick is also a statement. There are two ways he can possibly help himself, though both are risky.
He could go bold. On Tuesday at least there was something going on in GOPer circles either to promote Chris Christie or to reflect the possibility that he's actually being considered at this point. I happened to see Morning Joe on msnbc and somebody on Fox talking about Christie and the very same speech and signal achievement of his term in New Jersey--at virtually the same moment. It could be coincidence. But anything to do with GOPers suggests there's a real if invisible hand monkeying with the puppet strings.
But is this just Beltway GOPer desperation? Drudge floated Gen. David Petraeus, who himself quickly shot down the "rumor." The suggestion though is that Romney needs somebody with establishment foreign policy/military policy cred. Unfortunately for them, this country is not in a warmongering mood.
If not bold, he could go harder right. The theory here is that he's doing so badly that he absolutely needs to be able to depend on the Rabid Right base, a group that doesn't really trust him. That would mean Paul Ryan. And the boomlet on Wednesday was for Ryan. Update Thurs aft.: The Ryan boomlet continues, bolstered by a Wall St. Journal editorial. Meanwhile Portman depresses speculation that he'll be the v.p. nominee. Romney says his v.p. will have 'a vision for the country,' which sounds like Ryan but could be budget hawk Portman. What makes this more of a temptation for Romney was the violent and dare we say rapidly rabid response by Rabid Right leaders (Ann Coulter prominently among them) over a single comment by the Romney spokesperson who cited Romneycare in MA in a positive way. There's some question whether this was "misspoken" (it certainly was awkward in terms of Romney's past position and disdain for Obamacare as it implied that the MA system ought to be available elsewhere, which is the effect of Obamacare) or an Etch-a-Sketch moment as Romney tacks towards the Independent center. Update Thurs.: the campaign goes silent as attacks continue on this.
And this is Romney's political quandary at the moment. As evidenced by this furor, Romney does not have the loyalty of the Rabid Right base, who appear to be on hair-trigger response for abandoning him. He can't win without this base voting in great number. But he can't win without Independents and disillusioned Dems either. Ryan helps with the base, but Ryan cements Romney to the kill Medicare budget, which is not attractive beyond the base. That's worse than Portman nailing him to Bush.
Does the v.p. matter? Nate Silver crunches the numbers and says the only possible positive of any of these is Portman perhaps--and it's a big perhaps--getting Romney another 1% in Ohio. There are few if any ways Romney wins without winning Ohio. If Romney is confident about his strategy he'd most likely go with Portman for the boring white guys ticket of the century. If he goes bold or hard right, he's gambling for a "game changer" as McCain did in 2008.
So the real effect of the v.p. pick--which is the main reason to pay attention to it--is in what it says about the presidential candidate. In 2008 Obama impressed people by picking Biden, and McCain picking Palin, eventually not so much. In 2012 we get some insight into Romney's thinking, though perhaps only of his thinking about this campaign and what his strategy is.
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