As an evidence-based blog you need to feel confident about making predictions, and when you do you had better back them up.
So with that in mind, here it goes:
Paul Ryan is the worst thing that could have realistically happened to Mitt Romney.
And here’s why:
Who is Paul Ryan?
He’s a 42 year old conservative Congressman from Wisconsin who is a darling of the Tea Party. He is profiled brilliantly in the New Yorker here and could be described as an intellectual version of Sarah Palin and has such boyish looks that some fear he looks more 32 then 42.
That shouldn’t matter but it does because he has to pass the ‘Ready on Day 1’ and ‘Commander-in-Chief’ tests that previous VPs like Dick Cheney or Joe Biden clearly did. But Ryan doesn’t pass those tests anywhere near as cleanly as Biden or Cheney.
So why pick a Congressman for the first time since 1984? The answer lies in the magic words: “Paul Ryan Budget.”
What is the Paul Ryan budget?
Right, I’m going to try to use all my powers of self restraint to describe what President Obama called “social Darwinism” and Newt Gingrich said was “right wing social engineering” in, as Fox News would say, a “fair and balanced” fashion. Simply put the Paul Ryan budget says that the federal budget should be balanced over the next three decades through a combination of multi-trillion dollar tax cuts and multi-trillion dollar spending cuts.
The tax cuts would, naturally, be skewed to the wealthiest Americans and corporations (who, let’s not forget, “are people, my friend” ) and the spending cuts would, naturally, be skewed against such government excesses as pensions, healthcare for the elderly and welfare for the unemployed, the disabled and children in very low income families. Oh yes, and they’d bring Mitt Romney’s taxes pretty close to zero.
But don’t just take my word for it, that’s what the Congressional Budget Office has ruled and that’s what the Washington Post’s brilliant Wonkbook blog by Ezra Klein concluded, and it’s those reasons that bring us to who this budget causes a problem with.
The Ryan budget: pissing off women, workers and seniors
As the excellent co-author of 2008 campaign must-read Game Change/Race of a Lifetime John Heillelman wrote:
“Obama’s data jockeys have been polling and focus-grouping on this for months, and they are over the moon about what they have found.”
According to top pollster Stan Greenberg when voters hear about the Ryan budget:
“The President makes significant gains among key groups, including independents and voters in the Rising American Electorate (the unmarried women, youth, and minority voters who drove Obama to victory in 2008)”
Veteran White House watcher Ron Brownstein of National Journal explores the Ryan demographic problem further in a must-read stating:
“Generally surveys find white women more resistant to changes in the safety net than white men… Ryan’s plan remains a central focus through the fall, it would not be surprising if that debate widened the gender gap.”
Brownstein also notes that:
“The GOP today is increasingly dependent on the votes of older and blue-collar whites who — while eager to scale back government programs that transfer income to the poor — are much more resistant to retrenching entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security that largely benefit the middle-class… in polls, most of those older and blue-collar voters have consistently recoiled from the centerpiece proposal of Ryan’s budget: his initiative to convert Medicare from its existing structure.”
Simply put, the Ryan pick is likely to weaken Romney with his supporters amongst seniors and blue-collar workers who had been inclined to support him and weaken Romney amongst women who were worried about him. And a loss of key demographics on such a scale will in all likelihood translate into an even greater Electoral College challenge for Romney-Ryan.
How will this effect the electoral college?
Demographic indications are that the pick will hurt Romney most where swing voters are seniors. As electoral map guru Chuck Todd noted yesterday:
“Three of the oldest state populations in the country are Florida, Iowa and Pennsylvania.”
That means Democratic must-win Pennsylvania is now off the map for Romney, Iowa is looking better for Obama and Romney now has a headache in his most must-win state: Florida.
The reason for that headache is Florida’s high pensioner population ever wary of any change to their beloved Medicare or social security arrangements. It is this group that the Obama campaign can now zero in on with dire warnings of the dangers of Romney-Ryan’s plans for a voucher system for their healthcare and the privatisation of their state pensions.
Granted, very few VP picks ever significantly effect the electoral college (Palin probably deserves credit for shoring up the base GOP vote in Alaska, North Dakota and Montana enough to keep them red in ’08) but I would argue that Ryan could well be the difference in Florida – to the President’s advantage. And that would be game over for Governor Romney.
And what does this mean for the election?
Up until now Election 2012 was a battle over competing frames: the Romney campaign wanted it to be a referendum on Obama’s economy. The Obama campaign wanted it to be a choice between two competing visions of America’s future – as the President himself said in what has been widely acknowledged as the best ad of the race so far tellingly entitled, ‘The Choice’ and as pollster Stan Greenberg notes:
“President Obama’s lead against Romney more than doubles when the election is framed as a choice between the two candidates’ positions on the Ryan budget — particularly its impact on the most vulnerable.”
President Obama’s campaign has been largely characterised by its cold hearted, hard headed, highly effective data-driven take down of their Republican opposition. The Ryan choice will turbo-charge that attack strategy.
With Team Romney’s acceptance of Obama’s choice frame, the likely damage Ryan will do amongst key demographic groups, especially seniors, the harm that will cause him with the electoral college map and the changed nature of the race as a result my prediction is that this was the weekend that Romney sealed his own fate.