There's been a lot of liberal high-fiving over Mitt R-Money's selection of Paul Rayn, excuse me, Ryan, as his running mate. While the selection of Ryan is not a hail-Mary pass, it is the political equivalent of going for it on fourth-and-5 at midfield. We're up in the fourth quarter and the clock is ticking, and the opposing quarterback isn't seeing anything but linebackers in his visor. Romney had no choice but to shake up the race.
That said, it would be unwise to under-estimate Ryan. This isn't concern-trolling--if the Democrats play this right, it would take a miracle for the Romneyan ticket to win (assuming they aren't allowed to cheat). But the game is not over yet, and it would be dangerous to pretend it is.
- The Village loves Ryan. They don't love Romney. (And they were terrified of Palin, until they figured out she was an empty blouse). They never much loved Mitt to begin with--he's an outsider, a tee-totaler, and a guy who is about as charming as an alligator. And Romney's poor press relations have further undermined his relationship with the DC press corps, who trust him not a wit (outside the smaller corps of GOP beltway partisans). But Ryan is wonky, a DC insider, and charming with the cocktail circuit. He's the sort of politician that Very Serious People gravitate to, because they think he's Very Serious as well.
- He's reasonably intelligent--far more so than McCain's VP pick--and grooms well. He can't be expected to regularly commit unforced errors like Romney (or Palin) did with regularity. And he seems so inoffensive. Part of the reason Palin was such a disaster is that she caused visceral reactions in just about everybody, with 2/3 of the country hating her guts. Ryan isn't the sort of person that Middle America will take one look at and conclude is a complete and utter nut. They will have to listen to him carefully to figure that out, and many in the electorate cast votes based on initial impressions, not on detailed and considered analysis of the candidates.
- Ryan is good at playing Fake Libertarian--de-emphasizing his reactionary positions on social issues and foreign policy, and getting people to focus on his equally reactionary views on economics--views which may have more credibility among the younger generation, many of whom are convinced that government has failed, but aren't willing to dig deeper and ask why.
To deal with Ryan, some useful steps may be:
- Ignore the Village. Far too many Democrats in DC listen to the local press corps, rather than voters at home. Obama has (finally) figured this out, and has been ignoring the "advice" offered by the Thomas Friedmans and David Brooks of the world. Much of the Village is convinced that Ryan and his ilk are right, and will eagerly amplify that message, just as they though it was unbecoming of Obama to go after Romney's taxes and business record. Ignore them.
- Continue to hammer on the Ryan budget. The public hates it, and they should. The more they know about it, the more they hate it. Focus on what it is--a scheme to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the 1%, and one which will do diddly-squat about the deficit. This message is winning. Keep making it.
- Continue to point out the inexperience of the ticket on issues such as foreign policy. With a gaffe-tastic and clueless top of the ticket, emphasize Romneyan's lack of credentials in this key area. The past practice for governors running for the White House is to select senior senators, diplomats, or former cabinet secretaries to be a running mate (people like Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Lloyd Bentsen, George H. W. Bush, or Walter Mondale); not House members with domestic policy focus.
- Make him own his stances on social issues and foreign policy. Flush him out on issues like Iran, Russia, China, as well as on things like gay marriage and women's rights. Make it clear that he is noLibertarian.
In other words, it's time to stop the ball at the line of scrimmage, and take over on downs. If we do that, we should win. If the other side converts the first down... there's a lot of football left to play then.