Ryan will make or break Romney’s chances

by politicalthing

Guest post: Hassan Arif

One can say that Mitt Romney’s pick of Wisconsin member of Congress Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate gave the Republican ticket authenticity. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, have accused Mitt Romney of being phoney, of having no core convictions and of taking positions simply based on political expediency and opinion polls.

Mitt Romney was a moderate – even progressive – politician in his earlier incarnation in Massachusetts politics: first as a candidate for Senate in the 1990s, and then as Governor. However, in 2008 – during his first run for the presidency – he ran to the right of John McCain in an attempt to appeal to conservative Republicans. Mr. Romney has also run to the right in 2012, though he has placed more emphasis on economic management. Mr. Romney has also re-written history describing himself as a “severely conservative” Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Romney has shamelessly reneged on earlier positions as well. For example, on health care, Mr. Romney has been calling for the repeal of Barack Obama’s health care reforms (“Obamacare”) even though these reforms are based on the health care model implemented in Massachusetts when Mr. Romney himself was Governor. During his presidential run, Mr. Romney has had to run away from his own record as Massachusetts Governor, almost in essence running against himself.

This seeming lack of authenticity has led to muted enthusiasm for Mr. Romney among the conservative Republican base. During the Republican nomination, candidates from Rick Perry to Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum to Herman Cain frequently took turns as front-runner in opinion polls as Republicans sought an “authentic” conservative.

In the end, one can argue that Mr. Romney secured the nomination because of a weak field of candidates, and because of the millions he spent on negative advertising.

Paul Ryan, by contrast, is seen as a true believer in conservative ideology. He is a self-professed fan of conservative thinker Ayn Rand, making her work required reading for his staff. Mr. Ryan spearheaded a proposed Congressional budget which radically guts a range of social programs. Under Mr. Ryan’s plan, America’s system of public health care for seniors – medicare – is reduced to a voucher system with vouchers that are not even designed to keep up with inflation rates in the medical sector.

Other programs gutted under Mr. Ryan’s budget include Medicaid, slashed funding grants for post-secondary students, an erosion of environmental and banking regulations and the erosion and elimination various other programs for the poor and middle-class, all under the guise of deficit reduction.

Meanwhile, the Ryan budget doles out huge tax cuts for the wealthy while tax breaks on items such as mortgages which help the middle class would be eliminated.

With recession, a middle-class under siege and youth facing mounting student debts and a difficult job market, the Ryan budget would make life worse for many. Rather than offering relief from the recession, it would make the suffering from it even worse. In Britain, the austerity budgets of David Cameron’s government have plunged that country into a double-dip recession.

The Ryan budget would spell economic ruin for the majority of Americans – including even the rich who may find less market for their goods with an eviscerated middle-class.

All this contributes to an excellent rallying cry for Obama Democrats in 2012. They can rightly present themselves as the party which prioritizes jobs, which presented a stimulus package aimed at putting Americans back to work and which saved the automobile industry. This would be a favourable contrast to the Ryan budget which shamelessly slashes programs for the poor and middle-class while throwing out huge tax breaks to the rich.

However, the Mitt Romney campaign is likely to have taken this all into account before the Ryan pick. The budget document is popular with many small government conservatives. The Ryan pick potentially increases enthusiasm among the conservative Republican base for the presidential ticket, something that is important in signing up volunteers and spurring voter turnout.

The Romney campaign likely sees their route to victory as coming through a close election, like those in 2000 and 2004, which broke down along ideological “blue” and “red” state lines with deeply entrenched divisions and turnout among the base being key.

The choice of Paul Ryan as vice president is a bold and risky one as compared to safer choices such as former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty who is seen as dull and unexciting. The Ryan pick both serves as a rallying cry to the Republican base, as well as a clear means for Democrats to go after the Republican ticket.

In terms of social policy, Mr. Ryan is a disaster with a budget that attacks the poor and middle-class. In terms of electoral politics, it is hard to tell how the Ryan pick will play out as it brings both distinct advantages and distinct disadvantages for the Romney campaign. Regardless, it was a clearly calculated move on the part of the Republican presidential campaign, not a decision taken lightly.