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Mitt Romney made a bold decision on Saturday when he picked Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 election. However bold decisions are not always smart decisions, and it seems as though this one has the potential to work against the Romney campaign.
Ryan is a hardcore fiscal conservative and Republican idea man who has made a name for himself with his “Path to Prosperity” plan, which he argues would reduce the deficit by gutting social programs and slashing taxes for the wealthiest Americans. By putting Ryan on the ticket, Romney has insured that this election will become a battle of big ideas instead of a simple referendum on Obama's unpopular administration. It’s a huge gamble on Romney’s part, and here’s why I think it won’t pay off.
Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” plan is not particularly popular with voters
Simply put, Paul Ryan’s oft-talked about budget proposal is not popular with the electorate. At best, polls say the country is evenly divided on the plan. At worst, the polls say voters are decidedly against it. It doesn’t help that people seem to like it less the more they hear about it.
Ryan's “Path to Prosperity” would eliminate Medicare as it currently exists for all people under the age of 55. Instead of the government provided health insurance that seniors have come to rely on for decades, those who qualify for Medicare would receive a voucher that they could use to purchase insurance on their own. The plan would also repeal Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act and cut funding for Medicaid at the same time, leaving tens of millions of Americans without any way of paying for basic healthcare.
On top of eliminating these valuable social programs, the plan would also eliminate taxes on estates, capital gains, dividends and interest while lowering the marginal tax rate across the board. This sounds like it could benefit everyone until you realize that the plan would also eliminate tax breaks for lower income Americans, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Not to mention the fact that only the wealthiest Americans would save much money by eliminating taxes on estates, capital gains, dividends and interest.
It’s no surprise that many Americans are skeptical of a plan so audacious that even Newt Gingrich once referred to it as “right wing social engineering.” By endorsing Ryan and, consequently, his plan, Romney has set himself to be attacked on the basis of specific policy proposals. This is no good if the majority of Americans can’t get behind the policies being proposed.
Paul Ryan does not help with the electoral college math
Whether we like it or not, America’s presidential elections are determined by an archaic system known as the Electoral College. As a result, elections are often decided by a handful of ”swing states” whose voters are neither solidly liberal nor solidly conservative. With polls showing Romney trailing Obama in all of the most important swing states, it was important that he choose a running mate who could help shore up support in these crucial electoral battlegrounds.
Paul Ryan does not do this. If anything he is a liability to the Romney campaign in arguably the two most important states of the 2012 election - Ohio and Florida.
Conventional wisdom would have had Romney picking Senator Rob Portman of Ohio as his running mate, all but guaranteeing him a win in a state so crucial that nobody has won the Presidency without carrying it since Kennedy, in 1960. The polls have consistently put Obama ahead in Ohio, and the Ryan pick does nothing to change this math.
Then there’s Florida. The polls have Obama slightly ahead of Romney, but the state could easily go either way. However Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens of any state in the union, and seniors are notoriously protective of Medicare, which the Ryan Plan is pretty keen on altering beyond recognition. Seniors are always an important electoral demographic, but they are more important in Florida than anywhere else. Romney and Ryan need to do a really good job of selling these massive cuts in Medicare to the older folks if they’re going to be competitive.
Paul Ryan has the support of all the wrong people
Lots of people are talking about how Paul Ryan brings a new burst of excitement to the Romney campaign. This is definitely true. For the first time this campaign season, the ball is firmly in Romney’s court. The problem is that the Ryan choice only excites the segment of the population that was going to vote for Romney anyway. Sure, those on the right have been whining about Romney’s lack of bona fide conservative credentials since 2007, but what were they going to do instead? Vote for Obama?
Presidential elections in the United States are decided by those in the center. While it’s certainly important to have an energized base, it’s not what makes the difference in a race as polarized as this one. Romney already has the “anyone but Obama” crowd locked, he didn’t need to throw them a bone. At least not one this big. There’s a reason Obama hardly ever panders to the left wing of the Democratic Party - it’s because he knows they sure as hell aren’t voting for a Republican.
Paul Ryan’s plan plays perfectly into Obama’s narrative
For the past few months Obama has been hammering Romney on the little things - his taxes, his time at Bain Capital - in order to paint him as an out of touch rich guy who will hurt the middle class. It appears that this strategy has been working, as the Obama campaign has a decent amount of success selling this narrative.
By aligning himself so closely with Ryan’s plan, Romney has given Obama even more ammunition with which to push this “out of touch rich guy” narrative. Romney’s already taken heat for paying an effective tax rate of 13.9% - on the few returns he’s actually made public - and estimates show that his tax rate could go as low as 0.82% if Paul Ryan gets his way.
Gutting social programs as a means of funding massive tax breaks for millionaires like yourself won't make you look like you’re fighting for the little guy, and you can bet the Obama campaign will exploit that fact in every way possible.
The Republicans should have as good a chance as ever to take the Presidency this November. Yet despite Obama’s low approval ratings, it seems like Romney has consistently been running against himself. Putting Paul Ryan on the ticket gives Romney a chance to make this an election about ideas instead of people. It’s a bold decision for sure.
But a bold decision isn’t always a smart decision. You can ask John McCain about that.