Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Ryan Choice

Once JFK decided he would name his brother Robert as Attorney-General, clearly the most controversial appointment he would make, he joked that he'd better announce it by appearing on the porch of his house in the middle of the night and whispering, "It's Bobby."

In the middle of a Friday night, the news was leaked that Romney would announce Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday morning.  The late Friday leak might mean that the Rabid Right will get a few hours to go crazy with joy before the reporters and the Obama campaign has much to say, since most of the East Coast and Midwest are asleep at this point.  But it's in time for the Sunday shows.

What Dems are paying attention--mostly over at the West Coast-based Daily Kos--are also going crazy with joy.  The chance to definitively pin the Ryan budget and its provisions that would end Medicare on Romney seem to them a magical gift.  I'm not so sure.  The sports press was similarly of one mind about the Dwight Howard trade to the Lakers, which was the week's big personnel move until this.  But Howard--or the other Laker trades of this off-season-- don't seem to address the Lakers' greatest weakness against young teams like the Thunder: speed, that is, the Lakers lack of it.  Howard may be a great defender and an offensive monster down low, but he has to get under the basket first, before the other guys.

That the Ryan pick ensures them victory may be an early Dem chorus, but that outcome alas may not be a guaranteed championship either.  Romney's choice of Ryan addresses two key weaknesses, and maybe three, that are clearly hurting him.  The first, most glaring and most obvious this week is his weakness with the Rabid Right Republican base.  They will be ecstatic, and highly motivated to vote and to seek every partisan advantage until then, including active voter suppression.  It could get--probably will get--very ugly.

Second, Romney has a big problem with specifics--that is, he has no specific proposals, and is incapable of explaining anything.  He's likely to let Ryan explain his "vision for America" and to talk policy details, especially on health care and the deficit.  Ryan will likely offer a healthcare plan that sounds good but isn't Romneycare/Obamacare.  Similarly, he will explain his Medicare proposals in a way that sounds responsible and reassuring.  Or at least he will try. 

He will try to make the deficit a major issue.  It's the one issue that Rs have gotten traction on with Independents in the past.  Implicit in this second weakness is Romey's inability to express policy ideas, which by contrast Ryan does have.

Third, he's likeable, young, and on the national stage he's new.  Dems won't have the same time and money to define him as they did to define Romney.  This is where the Romney money machine goes into overdrive, to control the airwaves.

It is true that this pick shows that Romney is not operating from a position of strength.  But this could be that "game changer," and Dems should not be so confident that this is a gift.  They will have to handle this right.  And they'll have to weather what is likely now to be a bump in the polls for Romney--if not immediately, then after the R convention--which was not likely before this pick.

"Romney-Ryan" has an adman's music to it, as does the sight of the trim darkhaired and totally white twosome, animatronic Batman and Robin-like, on the stage together. Still, Romney may essentially cede the campaign stage to Ryan, much as McCain did to Palin.  And experience has shown that the farther Romney is from the stage, the better it is for him.  The only audience he's been comfortable and successful with is other very rich people.

 But hiding behind Ryan doesn't change his strategy really.  Before this, he was trying to back into the presidency by being the mostly blank alternative to the dread pirate Obama.  Now he's doubled down on that strategy by trying to back into the presidency behind his v.p.

It is true that if the Dems handle this right, they can reach Independents and older voters that may have seemed a stretch before.  And it's also true as some are saying at Kos that this is the clear choice election that the Obama campaign says it is--and that it is the Showdown of the parties.  If Dems are successful, they could be very successful up and down the ticket--and this will mean in particular than congressional Dems and the presidential campaign are tied together as never before. 

In terms of early media response, some of it is apparently going overboard the other way.  I don't see the Ryan pick meaning anything at this point for the states in play--his presence on the ticket means nothing for Wisconsin or Ohio or anywhere.  Its effect won't be known for months.  So I am not by any means saying that this makes Romney the favorite.
It probably does mean that what was shaping up to be a very bitter and contentious campaign is going to be even more bitter and contentious.  The Rabid Right knows no bounds, and this is only going to make them more reckless.  My worry is that it ups the possibility of serious violence.  In any case it's going to be a very bumpy ride to November.

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