Romney's VP pick: The good and the bad

2012-08-11 23:16
Paul Ryan (File, AP)

Paul Ryan (File, AP)

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Washington - On Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that his vice-president would be Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan.

Ryan’s claims to fame in recent time have been economic. He presented Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s budget for the next financial year, and sits on the House Budget Committee.

He has also been prominent with calls to reform Medicare, a plan created in the sixties which ensures access to healthcare for people older than 65 - a highly popular piece of the US policy framework. Ryan has held his seat since 1999, meaning this is his seventh congressional term representing a district that has been won by both Democrats and Republicans over the last fifty years.

Romney surprised a few folks, including me, by selecting Ryan. But let’s take a run through the good and bad aspects Ryan will bring to the table:

The Good

Paul Ryan has big political capital. He is young - only 42 - yet is highly respected within his party by those older and younger than him. He has 14 years of legislative experience in the House of Representatives, and has also seen masses of camera time as he presented opposition to Obama budgets. He chairs the House Budget Committee, which entitles him to pass an opinion on just about anything to do with money, and does so frequently.

Romney has endorsed “the Ryan budget”, in spite of saying on Saturday that he wouldn’t just implement it if he became president (more on this later). Romney has run on his economic record, and has picked someone who backs that up. That being said, there is still a lot of debate as to whether Ryan’s financial proposals will actually work, cut the yawning deficit, deal with American debt, or kick-start the economy.
Ryan also appeals to conservatives, Romney’s true support base which needs to be dragged to the polls come November. Turnout in this year’s elections will be key, and Romney hasn’t managed to dissipate concerns that there is a significant faction in the Republican party that doesn’t really like him, and doesn’t think he’s conservative enough. Romney is on record defending gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, and going after gun control - stances he has changed for this election.

Ryan doesn’t quite have that problem. He has consistently been anti-abortion, including pushing for a personhood amendment, which defines a human from the moment of conception. He is rated A by the National Rifle Association, meaning he does what they want. Ryan voted against adoption by same-sex couples, voted to ban gay marriage federally, and against repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which banned homosexuals from serving in the US army openly. This on top of his financial pronouncements and plans. Conservatives like Paul Ryan. Anything that makes Romney more appealing is good for Team Romney.
Ryan also stabilised what was once a swing district in Wisconsin (Although to be clear it swings very slowly and stays in one party’s hands for good lengths of time). Wisconsin is a swing state and the general wisdom, of which I remain somewhat sceptical, is that this will help Romney win Wisconsin in the general election in November. Obama has led there consistently in polls, and won it 56% to 42% against John McCain in 2008.
Ryan is popular, has a legislative record, is comfortable in front of a camera, taps into socially conscious voters’ concerns, and backs up Romney’s financial policy push.
The Bad

While Ryan may attract more conservatives to Romney’s campaign, it risks dissuading two other demographics. Senior citizens are concerned about Ryan’s plans for Medicare, and we don’t know whether independents, whom are notoriously hard to poll, will back this move. As you might know, independents and swing voters decide US elections, but make up only a small part of the electorate.
The selection of Ryan also changes Romney’s message. For months he has been hammering Obama over the economy. Picking Ryan will immediately, and I mean immediately, change the national conversation towards entitlements, specifically Medicare. This is a risky ploy from a man who likes to calculate and plot and make sure he had made the right choice. Ryan is also not well-known nationwide - not anymore than many other politicians, anyway. Which means Team Obama will be doing their best to define him before November too.
Ryan’s plan to privatise Medicare is unsurprisingly unpopular amongst old people, who tend to vote Republican. There is actually an 18% point difference in support for Romney amongst young voters when compared to old voters, and Romney will need to be careful that Ryan’s Medicare plan doesn’t keep the old folks at home on voting day. Polls show senior citizens’ top two concerns are corruption in Washington DC, and entitlements (including Medicare and Social Security), while jobs and the economy is their seventh-most popular concern. Ryan’s previous budget proposals deal with entitlements, and Team Obama will most certainly be hitting the new Romney-Ryan pair with them in the most unflattering light.
Romney’s most serious gap is undoubtedly foreign policy, and Paul Ryan does nothing to help fix this. While foreign policy is not likely to make any sort of significant impression on the outcome of the general election, Romney’s shortcomings here have been noted. In 2008 Barack Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate, and one of the main reasons was Biden’s experience in foreign affairs (the other reason was the fact that Biden has experience, at all). Neither Romney nor Ryan have any military experience.
Republicans have a problem with minorities, or, in fact, anyone who isn’t a straight, white male. Women, black people, Hispanic people, homosexuals and so on tend to lean Democrat in elections (that’s not to say they all do, but more vote Democrat than Republican). It was for this reason people were hoping Romney would select someone like Marco Rubio or Kelly Ayotte to try and attract Hispanic voters or women. Polls don’t suggest this really makes a difference, and it would be little more than a token gesture if he had.
Read more on:    simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  paul ryan  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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