Next President Ryan
August 11th, 2012
Calling Dr. Freud. In this morning’s rollout of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice presidential running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney introduced Ryan as “the “next president of the United States” instead of as the next vice-president. After Ryan appeared on the stage erected in front of the U.S.S. Wisconsin — after all of the music, applause, and general fanfare died down — and just as Ryan was about to launch into his speech, Romney approached the microphone and said, “Every now and then, I’m known to make a mistake” to more laughter from the crowd.
Romney then said that he didn’t make a mistake in picking Ryan. Pundits will be debating that point over the next several months. As a caveat, I’ll remind you of my biases — I’m a Democrat and an Obama supporter (in case that somehow escaped your notice, although I have been critical of the President’s timidity at times) — and so I doubt that my saying that this is a mistake on Romney’s part will persuade many folks. But I do think that a look at the evidence is in order.
The Human Rights Campaign rates Rep. Ryan a “zero” on its scorecard, although I do think there’s room to argue whether the HRC’s criteria are all that informative on the bigger issues. They certainly don’t help in drawing distinctions between Ryan and Romney — or Obama and Biden — since the HRC only rates representatives and senators. Romney, for his part, has a few silver linings on LGBT issues if you look hard enough, but sometimes you have to squint to see them. He says he doesn’t want to reimpose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (although he says that repealing it was a mistake), he opposes marriage equality (and supports a federal marriage amendment banning same-sex marriage) but he had said that he supported civil unions (that was before he dumbed it down to, essentially, hospital visitation rights and couple of other bones). And, oh yeah, he kinda sorta thinks Boy Scouts should allow gay kids to sign up.
Ryan’s positions appear to be even more to the right on these issues than Romney. In 2006, he supported Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment which banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions. He voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. He voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act five years ago, but he’s withdrawn his support since then.
I don’t know Ryans position on gay Boy Scouts. But that looks like our last hope for a possible pro-gay position. I’m not optimistic.
And this, I think, is just one example which strengthens the argument that Romney’s choice for a running mate is a mistake. Romney is down by a significant number of percentage points in just about every poll out there, and the gap has only been widening in many of the swing states. Conventional wisdom holds that the election is going to come down to those who are still undecided — which means that it comes down to those who think Romney and Obama both are similarly good (or similarly bad) candidates. Ideologues and true believers have picked sides long ago, and now it’s down to those who find things about both candidates that they like. You know, moderates.
Which is why it was presumed that Romney was going to have to find some way to appeal to those moderates, either by moving toward the center or by filing down some of the sharp edges from those points that scare moderates off. It’s why Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rob Portman (R-OH) were seen as having the inside track. They both represented swing states, and they both represented constituencies that were not solidly in Romney’s camps.
But when you look at it, Ryan also represents a constituency that is not solidly in Romney’s camp as well: tea partiers, a group that is increasingly seen in a negative light among moderate voters. They’ve never trusted Romney, and they remain a rebellious, restive constituency. Ryan is their darling, and they’ll pick Ryan over Romney any day. And that appears to be the calculation that Romney’s making. But if he was going to make a play for moderates, this is not the pick he should have made. Tea partiers are famous for their disdain of moderates.
But here’s the thing that I find even more interesting. Ryan’s claim to fame is his very detailed budget proposals, which are solidly aligned with the tea party line. Romney’s campaign has been built almost entirely on not being specific about much of anything. He’s worked hard at perfect opacity on as many issues as he can get away with. Ryan’s budget proposals, on the other hand, are filled with some very frightening specifics. The debate will now shift to Ryan’s policy proposals and not Romney’s, largely because it’s often hard to figure out what Romney’s policy proposals really are. It’s not at all difficult to figure out Ryan’s.
Romney’s gaffe today in introducing Ryan as the next president will undoubtedly generate a lot of laughs. But I suspect that it will serve as a fitting metaphor for where the campaign is headed. It’s no longer the Romney campaign. It’s the Ryan-Romney campaign. And that’s what makes Romney’s selection a huge mistake.