Anybody remember that Paul Ryan was actually created as a national figure by Barack Obama…so he could use Ryan’s radical budget to chop the GOP off at the knees?
Nobody had heard of Paul Ryan until the President made him the face of the Tea Party’s radical vision of government. Business Week:
“…Obama himself…recognized the need for a foil and elevated Ryan’s stature–and that of the Roadmap–by discussing it in speeches and interviews. Members of his administration attacked it. This forced everyone running for Congress to take a position on Ryan’s budget, which quickly became the standard litmus test of conservative bona fides.”
Once all the Republicans had joined the newly anointed Tea Party Boy Wonder in the pool, the President then proceeded to toss them an anchor, shredding the priorities, mathematics, and even the courage of the Ryan budget.
“That’s not socialism. It’s math.” Easily my favorite soundbite of last year.
The Obama campaign chose as its reelection campaign theme “FORWARD”. They knew more than a year ago that they were going to run against the GOP’s embrace of the Ryan budget’s priorities, and from the beginning, have been framing the race as between “Forward” and “Backward”. And now they have what they wanted and planned for: a campaign on exactly their terms. The Ryan budget will be front and center in the fall debate.
True, turning to policy priorities takes some pressure off Romney’s tax returns. But only temporarily, because the fact that Romney would pay less than 1% in taxes under the Ryan plan necessarily leads to the question of how much he has paid in the past. And the core point of that push from a tactical standpoint was never about getting the returns, anyway: it was to communicate that Romney is a) so rich he has offshore accounts and takes tax deductions for dancing horses, and b) untrustworthy. The first has been accomplished and the second will continue to penetrate as Romney attempts to mealy-mouth his way around the draconian elements of the Ryan budget…which he has already embraced.
As we get into the details: the way the deficit climbs under the Ryan budget, but Mitt Romney would pay less than 1% in taxes…the way student loans would be slashed (that ought to get the young folks back to the polls), the way Medicare and SS would in essence be dismantled…the whole conversation will take place in the framework of Backward vs. Forward, as articulated by The Children of Privilege vs. The Self-Made Men Who Understand People Like Us.
The first headline of the Miami Herald after the announcement? “Ryan Could Hurt Romney in Florida”. That flushing sound you hear is 29 electoral votes for which Mitt Romney is no longer in contention. Democracy Corps‘ focus groups say focusing on the Ryan budget pops up Obama’s margin over Romney by ten points. And have you heard any serious worry expressed by anyone in the Democratic Party about how this affects downballot races?
So…what does this all mean from a strategic standpoint?
I think Obama set this guy up last summer to bring national attention to how radical the Tea Party agenda is, and to force Republicans to hitch themselves to it so there would be no question about the contrasts between themselves and the President. Now they’re having exactly the debate Obama has been framing for months: “this election is about two different visions for the future”. That’s a debate Romney and Ryan cannot possibly win.
The Tea Party wanted this because they have no strategic sense. Their only approach is to scream louder, and refuse to budge. They are crowing because they view Romney’s selection of Ryan as the moment they have taken over the Republican Party, and they may be right. But if so, in the process they are finalizing the breaking of the Republican Party as a nationally competitive brand.*
Over the long term, just as Ronald Reagan snapped up working people for Republicans in the 80s, Ryan’s gang is driving them towards Democrats. With single women and minorities already heavily tilted towards Democrats, it’s getting to be pretty thin picking for a Republican Presidential candidate. Looking at their bench and their agenda, it is hard for me to imagine a way they can get to 270 electoral votes–not just this year, but going forward. And given the Tea Party faction’s complete inability to compromise, it’s going to be hard for them to back away from positions that put states like Florida safely in blue territory, like voucherizing Medicare.
Romney and his people think picking Ryan is a game-changer, but choosing Paul Ryan for the ticket just locks Romney into playing the game Obama’s team wanted all along.
Team Obama has been patiently pushing Romney into a corner where the last move he had left was to bow down to the crazies. He has done so, and his campaign from here on out will be defined by crazy. Petard, meet match.
At publication, the Dragon was LOVING IT
*As their inability to win becomes evident, believe me: Wall Street and the Plutocrats will look elsewhere for their support. We’ll be seeing a lot more Lieberman-style Democrats running with healthy war chests in coming years.