All of official Washington is scratching a collective head about why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. Conventional wisdom is that any day Romney is not talking about the economy, he is losing. And since the Ryan pick, all we’ve talked about is Medicare.
Politico reports that leading Republicans are panicked that Ryan will hurt the down ballot races and help Democrats keep the Senate. One week later, Democrats remain absolutely giddy about the choice.
Paul Ryan is best known for proposing legislative remedies to the problem of government providing actual services to actual citizens. He is fully and firmly against any government program that makes working life more healthy, secure, or comfortable. He opposes government making it more possible for workers to retire. He is against Medicare, as we all know, but he also sponsored a (failed) bill to eliminate Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The latter helps states provide health care for the children of the working poor.
Pundits generally consider Ryan unelectable to statewide office in Wisconsin and unelectable to any national office on his own. His legislative record after six terms is unsuccessful. In 13 years, only two of his bills have become law, one naming a post office after Les Aspin and one providing a tax break for the makers of arrowheads.
Romney already had a huge Electoral College problem, particularly in the swing states that will decide the election, including Florida. Real Clear Politics (our favorite poll aggregator) estimates that Obama wins the likely electoral vote count 237 to Romney’s 191. 270 electoral votes are needed to win the election, meaning Obama only needs Florida (29) and any other toss up state to win.
After RCP parses the toss-up states, President Obama is reelected 332 to 206, a rout that includes Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and even Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. Of swing states, only North Carolina goes to Romney. (Republican Steve Forbes owns the controlling interest in RCP; you can’t simply dismiss them.)
Validating the conventional wisdom is the lackluster poll bump that Romney got from the pick. Usually, a candidate gets a bounce after picking a running mate (like McCain with Palin.) Yet for Romney, you can hear crickets. Still, picking Ryan does seem to have stopped Romney’s slide. Two recent polls show him slightly ahead. Last week, Obama’s lead was expanding pretty rapidly. (Remember this.)
Clearly, the obvious choice would be anyone else, particularly someone who might help with Florida or with Hispanic voters – or at least not hurt with them. Marco Rubio would have offered the same bomb-thrower aesthetic without the Medicare millstone. Rob Portman would have done no harm.
Was it a supreme act of bravery to pick Ryan? That’s hard to imagine given that it’s Romney doing the picking. There are three more likely explanations:
- He share’s Ryan’s views about the rich and the rest of us. In the Randian Objectivist viewpoint that Ryan adores, people are divided into two groups, creators and leeches. It is sinful, in the Objectivist worldview, to be generous.
This is a viewpoint that fits very well with another belief we’ve noticed among children of privilege (which both these men are.) Many children from well-off families believe they have earned their place in the upper echelons even though there is no objective (sorry) proof that they did. It may well be that both these men share the bonds of privilege and the mutual philosophy that they are entitled to their superiority. They are like-minded thinkers who “click” with each other.
- It’s a Hail Mary Pass. Campaigns see the same polling data that we do. But they see it sooner and in more detail. It is very likely that Romney came to realize that he had little chance of winning without a shakeup. “Game changer” is the campaign messaging for the Ryan pick. It is also what McCain’s ill-fated pick of Palin was called.
So it’s simply possible that Romney, facing the strong possibility of losing, decided to throw long. Ryan is his attempt to change the dynamic without the Sarah Palin backfire. Palin energized a flagging McCain campaign but ultimately cost McCain the election. Too many people thought (correctly) that she was unqualified.
- Romney is giving himself an excuse for losing. Don’t rule out the possibility that Romney chose Ryan exactly because he represents the Palin pick. Romney has displayed a fair amount of narcissism so far, notably he doesn’t believe he needs to be specific about what he would do. (He’s a businessman after all.) He has also been particularly arrogant about his tax avoidance strategies. He thinks they are none of your business.
One of the characteristics of narcissism is the inability to accept blame. Seeing an increasing likelihood of failure, the narcissist will begin looking around for someone to blame. Ryan provides a convenient explanation, just as Palin did for John McCain.
John McCain emerged largely undiminished from his loss. He is still considered an elder statesman. Palin can’t get an invite to the convention (and reportedly cried about it.) These days, she comes off looking like Eva Peron. Who would Mitt Romney rather be?