Saturday, August 18, 2012

Does Paul Ryan Increase Mitt Romney's Chance At Winning?

In a word, yes.

Since being selected by Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan has elevated the general tone and focus of the campaign. We now hear daily sound bites on Medicare, which has not been traditional GOP fare during campaigns for the highest office in the land. That would've been hard to imagine a few months ago.

I have watched and listened to Ryan's performance on the stump over the last few days and I must admit, I'm pretty impressed. I've known for a few years he's a smart man, well versed in the wonky world of congressional budgets and financial forecasts. I've known for a few years he's well regarded as a "serious guy" in Washington D.C. and has a reputation for doing the hard fiscal foundational work that leaves so many politicians running the other way. He has a reputation of not only being good at the numbers, but enjoying that type work. In addition to brains, he possesses a certain charm and likability that will serve both he and Mr. Romney very well over the next few months in the run-up to Election day.

This is the second Republican ticket in a row where the light and energy seems to be coming from the bottom  half of the ticket versus the upper half. In 2008 we saw a relative unknown politician from Alaska named Sarah Palin explode onto the scene and create such an excitement that neither the media, or Mrs. Palin could barely contain themselves. The situation this year isn't quite so flashy or sparkly, but Mr. Romney isn't complaining. The biggest difference between Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan is that Palin wound up needing to be "brought up to speed" on a plethora of basic issues ranging from economics, foreign policy and so on. Simple questions so baffled her that she looked foolish. The campaign wasn't blameless. First off, they picked her with more concern about the splash she might make to help a struggling John McCain than her experience or knowledge. It was a train wreck with both sides pointing fingers at the other one before it was all said and done.

Mr. Ryan hasn't been hiding out in Alaska these last thirteen years. He's been an up and coming legislator representing Wisconsin's 1st District and ascending the ladder in terms of position and power in the House. Now Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan takes a back seat to no one in terms of a high level of understanding on national fiscal matters. Safe to say, comparing Ryan to Palin, Ryan is the hands down stronger more competent addition to the ticket.

Usually a VP candidate will add some constituency to the top half of the ticket's support. Sarah Palin brought along the far right conservatives who weren't enamored with John McCain and the same argument could be (easily) made this time. Romney seems to be in the active process of "converting" to a more conservative stance on many issues, whereas Ryan has already planted his flag well right of the former Governor. At first glance, the far right, conventional wisdom tells us, will flock to Romney because of his more conservative partner. The problem with that line of reasoning is that the far right is already so determined, so energized to replace Barack Obama that I say their votes are mostly unaffected by Ryan joining the ticket. This is not a voting block that was ever up for grabs. Romney already has these votes in his pocket. Ryan doesn't help with this group.

Its not a lock that Ryan will be able to bring the Badger's State ten electoral votes with him in November. Wisconsin swung hard right in the 2010 mid terms, but keep in mind Barack Obama won Wisconsin in '08. Currently, the State is considered a toss-up for November.

Ryan has very little meaningful work or business experience other than his career in D.C. So, there's no big labor block that will follow him to Romney's benefit. He never served in the military, so beyond voting consistently to grow the size of the armed forces, there's no strong connection there to gain from.

There's plenty of reasons why Ryan may have been a risky pick. He's too wonky, his controversial stances on privatizing Social Security. His Medicare/Medicaid plans contained within his budget proposal are viewed as too severe by many. His votes of support for the Medicare Advantage fiasco, which added to the deficit and his votes in support of President Obama's stimulus package turn a lot of conservatives off. His public admiration for Ayn Rand may be offensive to many on the religious right. Ryan is a practicing Catholic and with Romney being a Morman, its been postulated that not having a traditional Protestant Christian on the ticket might hurt them in the General. Neither man has any military experience, which is rare and hasn't happened in 80 years for a national level presidential ticket for either party.

I wouldn't worry however if you're a Romney/Ryan fan. Once again, those constituencies of conservatives
won't let a few small issues like those get in the way of them voting against Obama. They folks aren't staying home in November and there's not a chance in hell they'll cross over and vote Democrat. Again, in spite of any of these shortcomings, they're not big enough to work against the Romney campaign. Remember a vote for Romney is no bigger than a vote against Obama.

Even those who point out some of Romney/Ryan's mis-representations about what President Obama's health care program, the Affordable Care Act, does or doesn't do, especially with regard to Medicare, in the end, I don't think will be a problem. The ACA when broken down into its various components polls well, but when bundled under the "Obamacare" label, support falls. Its not rational, but its a reality. Romney and Ryan both know this and will continue to beat the drum of vagueness for as long as they possibly can. Let Obama try to explain why or how we're misrepresenting his Socialist healthcare program. The ACA is wonky, dense stuff that bores people to tears. Its like cake. The good for you, healthy tastes like crap cake doesn't usually fare well against the cake loaded with fat grams, sugar and binding agents (that may cause anal leakage) but tastes great, does it?

With the national polls too close to call, it won't take much of a swing for one candidate to move ahead of the other. If the undecided independent voters, I say, vote with their hearts and feelings- I think that bodes very, very well for Romney/Ryan. If they are somehow turned off by the R&R campaign, and are willing to seriously dig below the surface and fact check the campaign ads and rhetoric, then I think it bodes well for the incumbent. My faith that the undecideds are likely to do the heavy lifting isn't very high. Other factors like the unemployment rate, pocketbook issues, something terrorist related occurs, then all bets are off.

Bottom line, while Paul Ryan is far more knowledgeable and serious than Palin ever was, he will pick his spots carefully on providing details. The less details he or Romney release, the harder it is for President to attack them. The convention will provide an emotional lift for the ticket and the debates will also be important in how the two sides find themselves heading into November. I suspect Obama will do well against Mr. Romney, but I tend to think Joe Biden will have his hands full with Ryan. Biden knows his way around a debate but he better plan on a more worthy opponent than he faced the last time. Ryan is a gifted public speaker, perhaps even more skilled than his new boss is.

In summary, two weeks ago the Romney campaign was slowly but surely losing ground to Obama. Now, with the addition of Paul Ryan, Romney seems stronger, more confident, more...Presidential perhaps. If he had chosen almost any of the fellow GOP-ers he defeated during the primary season, I would put him at a huge disadvantage heading into the conventions. Can you imagine Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Michelle  Bachmann as his running mate? They would've been laughed at. It was reported shortly after the Ryan selection became official that the Democrats were delighted that Paul Ryan was chosen. Most likely that was posturing, predictable posturing at that.

The President has his hands full, and Mitt Romney's chances of sending Mr. Obama back to Chicago have improved greatly with the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket.


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