UFD (Up for Debate): Will Paul Ryan Help Mitt Romney Win the Election?

Though Tom and I share this site, we often disagree. In our segment UFD, or Up for Debate, we address a topic from two opposing sides. In the post we address the question: Will Paul Ryan Help Mitt Romney Win the Election?

Stance: Paul Ryan will not help Mitt Romney win the election.

By Tom Silver

Paul Ryan’s radical streak is no secret to Mitt Romney. His austere budget plan, extreme social conservatism, and obsequious devotion to Ayn Rand’s objectivism are on the Congressional Record for all to see. With this choice for a running mate, Romney is clearly departing from the message that he has been steadily campaigning on for months: “A vote for me is a vote against Obama”. Now he hopes to wake the dormant Tea Party and energize his base. He’s beginning to recognize something Obama understood in 2008: the most effective campaigns are framed as popular revolutions. Is this stark shift a good fit for the Romney campaign? When one considers Romney’s personality, the imminent responses of the Obama campaign, and the effects on the swing vote, it is clear that the choice of Paul Ryan was a fatal mistake.

Throughout the Republican primary, the party’s reluctance to adopt Romney as a nominee was almost comical. The remarkable stints of popularity that Bachmann, Cain, Gringrich, and Santorum enjoyed were representative of conservatives’ attempts to find a more exciting candidate. The reason for this? Santorum said it best in January when he described Romney as “bland and boring”. Chris Christie later confirmed this Republican perspective of Romney’s personality:

“Do I wish Mitt would be a little edgier and a little bolder? Sure. And I’ve told him that,” Christie said in December to Morning Joe. “But he is who he is.”

People inspired by Romney are more difficult to find than his tax returns. With such a vanilla reputation, mounting a revolutionary, grass-roots campaign is simply outside of Romney’s abilities. Thus far in the campaign, he has presented himself as a responsible, self-restrained businessman, hoping to make up for his lack of charisma with a calculator and a bible. However, consistency was never Romney’s strength. Just as his current stances on abortion, gay marriage, immigration (and 11 other issues) are weakened by the positions he took a few years ago, this new campaign strategy will be undermined by the contrasting campaign he has been waging for months. Given his subdued disposition and his reserved running approach up until this point, adopting the radical Tea Party rhetoric of Paul Ryan at this stage in the game simply doesn’t make sense.

As the media dissects Ryan’s appointment from every conceivable angle, one thing is clear: this will have immediate ramifications not only on Romney’s campaign, but also on Obama’s. The New York Times headline captures the forthcoming reaction of the Democrats: “Ryan Pick Gives Obama Chance to Change Subject”. Romney has capitalized on the opportunity to continue the impassioned anti-Obama campaign that Fox News has been peddling for four years, and this has forced the president to consistently defend his record. Now Obama has the chance to go on the offensive, and Paul Ryan’s record offers him a long list of talking points that Romney would have benefited from keeping off the table. Since the announcement — 2 days ago as I write this — Obama has tweeted 26 times about Ryan, rallying supporters of gay rights, women’s rights, and Medicare. With this generous donation of ammunition to the Obama campaign team, Romney’s choice of VP is sure to backfire.

A final flaw in Romney’s selection of a running mate is its failure to appeal to any new voting bloc. Swing voters, the highly-pursued yet ill-understood group, are often the focus of presidential campaigns. By bringing his message to the far-right, Romney deters independents and unsatisfied Democrats, giving in to the recent polls that show Obama leading in critical swing states. It’s true that not all swing voters are centrists, but non-Republican voters on the far right or non-Democrat voters on the far left are unlikely to change their votes based on the Ryan appointment. Ryan doesn’t appeal to any new ethnic groups, as Marco Rubio may have done, and he surely isn’t going to convert any Obama supporters. Indeed, Ryan and Romney are identical on a superficial level — white male conservative Christian millionaires, best known for their focus on fiscal policy.

Paul Ryan will ultimately detract more from the Romney campaign than the little he can add. He invites Obama to campaign on new issues of principles, and discourages moderate voters from voting the incumbent out. The shift in strategy that Ryan represents will be a sharp blow to a campaign that was already beginning to dwindle. From Ryan’s perspective, joining the Romney campaign was a poor decision. He who could do better than to associate with such a historically moderate governor. As his hero Ayn Rand said, “The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.”

***

Stance: Paul Ryan Will Help Mitt Romney Win the Election

By Josh Leifer

Before Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan, the Republican effort to take the White House in November appeared to be in trouble. Romney was still having trouble relating to the average American. At stops throughout American’s heartland, Romney seemed wooden and unnatural. He looked like the guy who fired your dad, and very well could have been. Voters believed Romney to be more capable at handling economic issues, but his likability deficit was hurting his campaign.

With the economic recovery still sluggish and unemployment stubbornly above 8 percent, campaigning against Obama should have been easy. His signature legislative decisions, like the Affordable Care Act, are still unpopular. The approval rate of Congress, of which Obama’s party had total control for the first half of his presidency, has rarely been lower. The Romney campaign understood it needed to act quickly and boldly. And they did, by choosing Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan bolsters Romney’s conservative credentials. Prior to selecting Ryan as vice-presidential candidate, Romney faced not only challenges from the Left but also questions about his ideological commitment from the Right. Conservatives worried about the sincerity of his positions. In his previous incarnation, Romney campaigned as a moderate. The healthcare program he implemented in Massachusetts was the blueprint for Obama’s reforms. He has spoken in defense of Roe v. Wade and supported the teaching of evolution in public schools. Ryan, in contrast, has a long history as a social conservative. According to Naral Pro-Choice America, Ryan has cast 59 votes either for curtailing existing reproductive rights or against expanding reproductive freedoms. Conservative groups, such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, consistently rank Ryan in the top, most conservative quartile of all lawmakers. Newt Gingrich, the onetime doyen of the Republican Party’s rightmost flank, found Paul Ryan’s economic policies conservative enough to refer to them as “right-wing social engineering.”

By adding conservative heft to the Republican ticket Paul Ryan’s selection has increased enthusiasm among right-wing groups. In an election season frequently characterized as one of the most boring in recent memory, the added political energy will make a difference for the campaign. Tea Party groups, previously lukewarm about Romney’s candidacy, have clamored to announce their support for the Romney-Ryan ticket. This means that more money, time, and energy will be dedicated to their campaign. Paul Ryan, a favorite of big business because of his support for shockingly low tax rates and opposition to regulation (not to mention that he voted for a bailout), shores up support from Wall St. and large corporations. In the previous election, part of Obama’s success was due to his massive fundraising efforts. By turning an enthusiasm deficit into an enthusiasm advantage for the Republicans, Paul Ryan’s presence on the Republican ticket increases the likelihood that Romney-Ryan will out-fundraise Obama-Biden. If the Republicans win the most money, chances are they will win the most votes.

Paul Ryan also solves Mitt Romney’s likability problem. As countless media outlets have painstakingly remarked, Ryan is good-looking, fit, and young. Despite being from a prominent Wisconsin family, Ryan appeals to the working-class white voters who will most likely decide the outcome of the election. In addition to his appearance, his politics match those of many Americans. Of the “dramatic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, and other vital programs” proposed by the Ryan budget – that many believe may make him unpopular nationally, Mark Schmitt of The New Republic writes, “Republicans could talk about them as if they would just reduce all that other spending – the silly, wasteful programs or programs for lazy people (or minorities), that Americans are convinced make of much of the public spending.” In other words, Ryan’s rhetoric about balancing the budget, even when it acknowledges the need for large cuts to entitlement programs, is popular amongst many Americas, most of whom don’t realize that they actually are beneficiaries of entitlement programs. Ryan’s hawkishness on spending (mostly on social services for marginalized groups, as he had no problem voting to bailout big banks) jives with “the familiar insight,” as Schmitt notes, “made first by two political scientists in 1964, that Americans are ‘philosophically conservative’ but ‘operationally liberal.’” Many Americans identify with Ryan’s anti-government and right wing populist tones, especially when articulated as a form of resistance to the looming future of Obama’s “European, socialist” vision.

When Romney talks populist, it comes off as disingenuous. It’s too obvious that he stands to benefit from deregulation. He’s too rich to talk about entitlement programs. But Ryan, while adding conservative bona fides and youthful vigor, can speak the language of the middle class. With a beguiling smile and boyish features, Ryan looks like son of white America’s dreams. And that allows him to coax working Americans to drink the poison of trickle-down economics, while with his big blue eyes he promises it will taste sweet going down.

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2 Responses to UFD (Up for Debate): Will Paul Ryan Help Mitt Romney Win the Election?

  1. Sawwon Lee says:

    @Tom: it may be necessary to consider the gap between popular opinion and the process of voting; as Josh states, Ryan adds political energy to Romney’s campaign, which materializes concretely as funds for political maneuvering.

    Further, it’s unclear that the new attack opportunities for the Obama campaign will actually give a competitive advantage over the Romney campaign; attacks can be countered and redirected, and so this may come down to the specific competencies of their relative spin doctors.

    @Josh: Is it so clear that working-class white voters will most likely decide the outcome of the election? The specific demographics of the politically crucial states may vary, especially considering the fact that taking the time out to get to a voting station is nontrivial. They’re working-class, after all, unlike (say) Medicare recipients who have the freedom to show up or not.

    While leveraging the concept of the Other to keep Americans in line may be an effective social control strategy, its short-term competitive utility for the Romney campaign is dubious. As Tom points out, swing states are leaning toward Obama, which may imply increased willingness to listen to the counter-rhetoric Obama’s campaign will deploy.

    • Tom Silver says:

      Thanks for reading! I agree that Ryan may help draw in more campaign donations (even though Romney doesn’t really need much help in that regard). Josh and I have privately discussed the extent to which money can influence votes, and the consensus in academia seems to be that the emphasis on fundraising in presidential campaigns is gratuitous. Here’s an interesting conversation with the authors of Freakonomics on the subject:

      http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/01/12/does-money-really-buy-elections-a-new-marketplace-podcast-full-transcript/

      The question of whether the political energy added by Ryan will translate concretely into votes remains to be seen. As for Obama’s response, I did write under the assumption that Medicare, women’s rights, gay rights, and the other issues that Ryan has taken firm stances against are areas where Obama retains popular support. I agree that the burden is now on each campaign’s spin doctors to address these issues. The Daily Show did a very relevant bit on that last night:

      http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-august-13-2012/paul-ryan-s-bipartisan-appeal

      I still think that Ryan will be detrimental to the Romney campaign, but at least his nomination will inspire some legitimate conversations about government programs as opposed to all the superficial political back-and-forth we’ve seen thus far.

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