Sunday, August 12, 2012

Romney's Wimp Move: Paul Ryan for VP

Mitt Romney wants to avoid comparison with George W. Bush, but he might not be worried about comparison with George H.W. Bush.  Newsweek made this comparison inevitable by questioning Romney's manhood, which was also an issue for George H.W. Bush.

Newsweek is owned by the IAC, the internet company of Barry Diller, and so outside the small crony network of corporations who own most American media, although Diller cannot be described as a liberal.

Romney laughed it off, but it may have actually pleased him by letting him frame himself as media victim, as George H.W. Bush also did in his 1988 victory.

However, Romney may have been more affected than he let on, because like Bush, he did the insecure middle age wimp thing: he secured a younger, better looking man as his running mate.

In the case of George H.W. Bush, the running mate was Dan Quayle, who was spelling-challenged and brought nothing to the ticket but a reputation for loyalty and dirty tricks, the perfect accompaniment to a masculinity challenged man. 

In the case of Romney, the choice of Paul Ryan looks even more insecure than George H.W. Bush looked.

Paul Ryan offers some advantages.  First of all, as a Congressman and Washington insider with a policy bent, he will be able to hold his own in debate with the gaffe-prone Joe Biden, unlike Sarah Palin, unless Ryan starts spouting the views of Ayn Rand, his personal heroine, which would shock the public.  Although Rob Portman is also an insider, he is a poor debater and would look old and ill compared to Biden. Condoleezza Rice would have been a better choice if debate performance were the only criterion,  but there is no telling how many people were offered the role and declined.  Romney is counting on Ryan's insider status not hurting him, as Biden didn't hurt Obama.  Given the unpopularity of Congress, that's a real concern.

However, there are other pluses Ryan brings to the ticket than his debate performance.  Ryan is a Richy Rich, as one would expect from Romney, as his family owns one of the nation's leading excavation and grading contractors, but it is a real business, not a paper one like Romney's . Ryan is young, which is a demographic Romney badly needs. Another plus is that Ryan's anti-government views are in line with the Koch Brothers, other CEOs and Wall Street, which should keep the money rolling in (July's fundraising of $101 million was below June's $106 million).  The biggest benefit of a Ryan candidacy, though, is his removal from Congress.  If Romney wins and gets a Republican Congress, that Congress will be run by the Tea Party, and Ryan would likely set the agenda.  Romney would look like second fiddle on Capitol Hill.  The rest of the Republican talent pool, like McConnell, Portman and Boehner, are subnormal and disengaged, nor is the Tea Party capable of constructive leadership, so there is little chance they would interfere in any effective way with a Romney presidency.  Ryan might interfere to the perpetual embarrassment of the outsider Romney.  Romney essentially had to remove him in order to establish himself as the sole leader of the Republicans.

By giving Ryan the job of vice-president, kicking him upstairs in the parlance of olden times, Romney therefore takes away the Congressional Republicans' ability to organize an effective opposition to President Romney's agenda.  Ryan wrote their budget, and they would likely to defer to him if the writes Romney's. That's how Eisenhower took the Republican right off the table, by promoting Nixon to vice-president, but in Romney's case it has a more desperate feel in the sense that Ryan would still be writing the budget, but Romney would get the credit for it.

The negatives of the Ryan choice are legion.  First of all, Ryan is a Congressman, so brings no electoral votes with him.  Ryan is not especially popular in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin's electoral votes are not a great prize, particularly with Romney facing an enthusiasm gap in the South. Ryan has had very little real campaign experience, and his Washington world is very removed from the mood of the electorate.  Ryan has also repeatedly attempted to privatize Social Security and Medicare, which are popular programs the public doesn't want touched. The Republicans think this will be a non-issue for Obama because Obama's health care reform does away with Medicare Advantage, a $500 billion previous attempt to partially privatize Medicare, but that assumes that the public cannot be taught what that was all about in a sound byte or two, that the Medicare Advantage customers would switch to original Medicare rather than be stripped of insurance.  Obama hasn't done it, but I find it difficult to believe he couldn't.   It is typical of the Republicans at all levels that they think a one sentence rejoinder can solve any political problem they have.  The Republicans also believe a black could never win traction with the older public, regardless of what he has given them, like enhanced prescription coverage, but the polls on this aren't entirely clear.  Obviously, if the elderly abandon Romney, he would have no winning strategy, which is why he is careful to avoid embracing the Ryan schemes, and continues to pretend he will not touch Medicare and Social Security for some years, so that the elderly will not panic and go to Obama.

The Ryan choice suggests Romney is lying about this, and Social Security and Medicare would be attacked on Day One of a Romney administration, as practically all Republican politicos want.  Ryan also voted for financial deregulation,  which implicates him partially in the 2008 economic meltdown.  Ryan has repeatedly blocked unemployment extentions and jobs focus in Congress.  In short, Ryan is far enough right that he cannot help Romney with independents.  He can help Romney with the base, but that is playing with fire. If they are empowered, they can perhaps back Romney into a corner.  Then Newsweek will not have to modify its Wimp stories with a question mark.  In short, Romney's VP choice looks less like an effort to win the election, than an effort to shore up his weak influence in the Republican party.

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