It’s an eyebrow-raising decision for Team Romney to go after Gingrich on Paul Ryan’s budget plan. In fact, on that surrogate call yesterday, both Sununu and former Sen. Jim Talent whacked Gingrich over the Ryan plan. And they hit him on it in a new Web video out this morning. Yes, that’s a big vulnerability for Gingrich, given what we saw happen to him last spring/summer. But is it the wisest approach for Romney, especially when you begin to map out a general election? (After all, Romney’s own Medicare plan isn’t 100% Paul Ryan.) Here’s what the White House/Obama re-election campaign is noticing: Romney is going after Gingrich by questioning Newt’s conservatism, which pushes Romney farther to the right…In other words: Team Obama believes this is the single best week for their own campaign to date.Whatever ultimately happens in the Republican primary, this dynamic should be good news for President Obama. If Gingrich survives, he'll be weakened, and if Romney prevails, he'll have moved to the right, embracing radical positions like Paul Ryan's plan to replace Medicare with vouchers. Those sorts of positions are popular with Republicans, but not with the general public, so while Romney's attacks will likely inflict some damage on Gingrich during the primary, in a general election context Romney's shift to the right should cause him long-term damage.
I emphasized the word "should" because if Romney is able to attack Gingrich from the right without explicitly taking positions that are consistent with his attacks, he'll get all the benefits of attacking Gingrich without the downsides. Clearly, Democrats aren't about to let Romney get away with that, but unless the campaign journalists also make it clear where Romney stands, there's a good chance he'll be able to skate.
Today, Romney again made it clear that he supports the basic contours of Ryan's plan. Like Ryan, he would end traditional Medicare in favor of vouchers; the only difference is that Romney would allow there to be a government-run health plan among the options available to seniors. He'd call that option "Medicare" but the idea of Medicare as the provider of guaranteed health coverage for all seniors would disappear.
As Greg Sargent points out, tomorrow's ABC/Yahoo debate (we'll be liveblogging it here starting just before 9PM ET) is a good place for journalists to start exploring Romney's position. He's effectively bet his entire campaign on it, and if he wins the primary as a result of his embrace of it, it will be a central issue in the general election. And as long as he isn't able to sweep it under the rug, in the end, it won't just be Mitt Romney who regrets his decision to revive Ryan's plan—it will be every Republican who has to run on his ticket.