The long wait is over as presumptive Republican candidate for President, Mitt Romney, announced Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 campaign. In Norfolk, Virginia, home of the U.S.S. Wisconsin, Romney and Ryan made their first official appearance together as running mates this morning.
The Romney campaign needed a game-changing action to take public attention off Romney’s tax issue, a message Democrats have been pounding away on for weeks. While Ryan is sure to energize sections of the base, the pick will not save the Romney campaign. Here’s why.
1. Ryan attempted to privatize Medicare
The third rail of politics generally refers to an “untouchable” part of government in the sense that any politician trying to so much as tweak it will suffer immediate and severe political consequences. Paul Ryan’s 2012 proposal to privatize Medicare didn’t just tweak a third rail issue; it took a hatchet to it.
Under the “Ryan Plan,” Medicare would be replaced with a private-voucher system that provides payments to individuals in the program and let them decide how to spend the money from a pre-populated collection of private insurance companies. Ryan was pilloried for the proposal, with several think-tanks arguing that the rate of inflation would quickly outpace the government payments, making the out of pocket costs substantially higher for seniors using the program.
Republican officials were schizophrenic on the plan, at best. After initially embracing it, the blowback from the senior citizen lobbying efforts of the Alliance for Retired Americans and the American Association of Retired Persons caused many Republicans, including Mitt Romney, to distance themselves from Ryan’s budget.
With Ryan’s generally terrible rating among senior citizen organizations, coupled with his strong public pushback against the largest of such organizations (Ryan has attacked the AARP as a “left-leaning pressure group”), the Romney campaign will have its hands full trying to maintain its most important demographic. Expect “Campaign Ryan” to distance itself from “Congressman Ryan” on questions of entitlement reform in a hurry, or his time in the spotlight will be short-lived indeed.
2. Ryan's voting record will alienate moderates
Diving past Ryan’s Fox News-scrubbed image and looking at his voting record is going to set off warning bells among moderate voters. The deep dive the media is about to take into Ryan’s political decision is going to bring to light a lot of things moderates aren't going to like. Ryan was:
Rated 10% by the ARA, indicating an anti-senior voting record. (Dec 2003) Rated 13% by the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights voting record. (Dec 2002) Rated 0% by the HRC, indicating an anti-gay-rights stance. (Dec 2006) Rated 8% by the NEA, indicating anti-public education votes. (Dec 2003) Rated 0% by the CAF, indicating opposition to energy independence. (Dec 2006) Rated -3 by AAI, indicating an anti-Arab and anti-Palestine voting record. (May 2012) Rated 11% by APHA, indicating an anti-public health voting record. (Dec 2003) Rated 0% by the AU, indicating opposition to church-state separation. (Dec 2006)
From his voting record, Ryan is in favor of a federal ban on same-sex marriage, in favor of the Patriot Act, opposes civil oversight on surveillance, supports warrantless wiretaps, opposes stem cell research, opposes funding for renewable energy, opposes the Lily Ledbetter Act (fair pay for women), favors an absolute ban on abortion (including in cases of rape), opposes regulation of greenhouse gasses, and opposes preserving habitats for endangered species and allowing the government to list new endangered species – and that’s just a cursory overview. I don’t have the space to explain how much more polarizingly Republican Ryan’s vision for America gets.
3. Ryan won’t deliver any swing states
Kennedy didn’t defeat Nixon in 1960 because he was the better candidate or because he was young, charming, and likeable. Kennedy won the Presidency in 1960 exclusively because he tapped Lyndon Johnson as Vice President. Johnson delivered Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia for Kennedy, a swing that propelled Kennedy over the top.
Ryan’s only offering is potentially delivering Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes. A pittance compared to Senator Marco Rubio’s potential to deliver Florida’s ever-important 29 votes or even Governor Chris Christie’s potential to transfer New Jersey’s 14. This isn’t even to mention Senator Rob Portman’s potential to deliver Ohio’s 18 swing votes.
Romney has to win a number of swing states to have any shot at the presidency. Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin hasn’t gone Republican since Reagan, and Obama is currently polling 5-7% ahead of Romney. Even if Ryan swings Wisconsin, it’s hard to see how his polarizing politics will deliver any of the other necessary swing states to the Romney column.
4. Ryan’s economic voting record is completely political
Ryan’s strength was supposed to be that of the young courageous representative who was willing to buck party and taboo topics and propose sweeping economic reform. While the GOP has done its best to sell that brand, looking at Ryan’s record, the sales job comes off flat.
Ryan voted in favor of the GM and Chrysler bailout ($15B) in 2008 while voting against the stimulus package focusing on jobs, infrastructure, and the economy ($60B) in the same session. Why? Well, it probably had something to do with the fact that GM has a massive assembly plant in his hometown.
Ryan also voted for President Bush’s TARP bank bailout ($700B), a program more than ten times larger than the stimulus he shot down less than a year later.
Those are just a few quick examples out of a litany of politically self-serving and party-first decisions that are going to explode in the Romney campaign’s face. Ryan was a good prop to push the GOP economic agenda and this magic won’t falter among the conservative base. That said, a popular economic figure within the party doesn’t transition to a well-rounded candidate subject to the scrutiny of the national press and campaign pressures he is about to receive. Expect a lot of hypocritical votes to bog him down in the run up to the convention and in the debates.
5. The Ryan budget is voodoo economics
The Ryan Plan was quite the political firework when released. Supported by fancy videos and charmingly good looks, Ryan went out to convert the masses to what amounted to the most radical Republican budget plan in decades.
Ignoring the policy positions taken by Ryan, the budget was very problematic for another reason – its assumptions. To quote The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein:
"[Ryan] assume[s] that all federal spending aside from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will fall from 12.5 percent of GDP in 2011 to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050….He’s saying that in 2050, spending on defense, on food stamps, on infrastructure, on education, on research and development, on the federal workforce, and everything other non-entitlement program combined will be less than four percentage points of GDP.
"Consider that defense spending has never fallen below three percentage points of GDP, and Mitt Romney has promised to keep it above four percentage points of GDP."
This is just a single example of the unicorn and rainbow economic assumptions presented in the Ryan plan. Some others include the assumption that the Ryan plan will raise revenues to 19% of GDP and hold them there (without outlining how) and that his privatized Medicare plan will track with GDP +.5% (which, as an economic assumption, might qualify as clinically nuts).
In other words, while Ryan’s budget proposals are proper characterizations of the Republican platform, they are limited to talking about what Republicans want and not how they can actually make any of it happen. That’s politics, and ridiculous assumptions are standard practice for politicians playing economists, but such faulty foundations for the signature economic plan of both Paul Ryan and the Republican party doesn’t bode well for the Romney campaign.
In sum, Ryan is a pick to shore up the base and will do nothing to win undecided voters for Romney. In fact, he is likely to have the opposite effect. The only explanation for the Ryan pick is that this is either Romney falling on his sword to set up a future presidential run for Ryan or this is Romney’s biggest political blunder to date, and that’s saying something.