With Paul Ryan, Romney finally has a plan
Yesterday Gov. Mitt Romney, the soon to be presidential nominee for the Republican Party, selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate for the 2012 presidential race. In doing so, it probably shifted the debate in the race more to the issues than ever before. This was a critical move for the Romney campaign, because up until this point the majority of the debate in race has been about a lackluster job growth cycle and the past history of Romney at Bain and other places. Through those past few months, Obama has been able to widen his margin in the polls, with a trajectory that would have most likely given him the race and re-election, in a race most had predicted was Romney’s to lose. But why will picking Ryan potentially change the narrative of the race?
Part of the problem for Romney has been the lack of any real substantive plan for the future offered by his campaign. When you look at his plan he offered prior to selecting Ryan, “Believe in America,” you don’t find anything of real substance in tackling the issues facing America today. In fact, the majority of the plan is more a criticism of Obama’s policies than it is a plan for the future. Sure, there are a few nuggets in the plan such as developing a DARPA-like funding structure for researching and implementing new energy solutions or pursuing a Balanced Budget amendment. But the rest is just generalizations expressed in rhetorical terms. In fact, most of the plan was just extending some of the age-old Republican mantras such as cutting taxes and ending regulation.
That provided little opportunity for either campaign to really engage on issues since there wasn’t anything to really focus on from a compare and contrast between the two candidates. It was like Romney was just picking up where the Republican Party had left off after the 2010 election cycle without anything new or real to bring forward. This lack of a plan and the frustrations associated with it came to a head in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, urging Romney to select Rep. Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 election.
“Whatever doubts Americans may have about Mr. Romney’s empathy or background, more of them will turn out for him if they see a leader with a vision and plan worthy of the current difficult moment,” said the editorial. “Personalities aside, the larger strategic point is that Mr. Romney’s best chance for victory is to make this a big election over big issues. Mr. Obama and the Democrats want to make this a small election over small things—Mitt’s taxes, his wealth, Bain Capital. As the last two months have shown, Mr. Romney will lose that kind of election.”
This can be seen in polls over the past year, specifically the past two months. As you can see from the poll tracker, provided by Real Clear Politics, Obama has led Romney except for a month between September and October of last month. Romney needed something to change the narrative and it had to be fast. So what better way but to “buy a plan,” namely one that was pretty well packaged and seemed to resonate with Republicans, especially the strong conservative Republicans who weren’t sure Romney was a “real deal conservative.”
What better place to find a plan than with a person who has been touting one since assuming the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan. Ryan, a self-proclaimed policy wonk, has devised budget plans that will, according to him, shrink the size of the federal government, address entitlements in both Medicare and Social Security, and avoid raising taxes to not only balance the federal budget but also pay down the federal debt, a task that has proved daunting to every president since we started incurring debt. His most recent plan, “Path to Prosperity,” was approved by the Republican House this past March but rejected by the Senate, along with the president’s budget.
In Ryan’s plan are the specifics needed for full discussion of issues going into the final months of the presidential race. Ryan’s plan proposes changing Medicare, over time, from a benefit based system to a premium based system, banning earmarks, privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and numerous other proposals to change the way government operates in the future. Some are short-term and some are strategic. The bottom line is that Ryan’s plan has much more specificity to addressing issues than Romney’s plan.
But now there is an issue for the Romney camp by pulling Ryan in as the #2 man. Who is really running for president, Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan? Romney’s camp has already recognized this messaging issue and has put out statements that Ryan’s plan is not Romney’s and that the candidate will be building his own. According to internal talking points by the campaign “Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance.”
What is very clear is that the Romney campaign may have finally caught the issues car but now has to figure out what to do it now that they have it in the form of the Ryan plan. Clearly, the narrative has now turned to something everyone has been waiting to tackle in the race, including the press, so much so it occupied the Sunday talk shows. Unless the Romney campaign does something to change the narrative back to the candidate, every press conference, every political discussion, in fact, every poll will be about the #2 guy and his plan, something the Romney camp doesn’t want to happen. It will bring up the question, “Did the right guy get nominated?”
The challenge to refocusing the narrative will be how to balance the strong faction of the Tea Party that suddenly feels vindicated with the selection of one of their leaders. Romney has been struggling with how to engage this active and vocal arm of the Republican Party ever since trouncing all of their preferred candidates during the Republican nomination cycle. Many had really questioned his conservative DNA and had seemed to shift focus more to congressional races and away from the presidential campaign.
Sure, the money from the big donors continued to pour in but when it came to volunteers and voters, Romney has been having a hard time engaging those groups, both critical to any election. All the money and TV time in the world can’t sway a voter if that person can’t see themselves in the candidate and campaign. With Ryan, the Tea Party now has someone it can associate with in the campaign and help motivate the movement to both work for and vote for the Romney campaign.
These next few weeks will be telling on how the Romney campaign refocuses the narrative and if it’s effective in the change. If it is, then this race may suddenly get competitive. If not, then this will be yet another issue for the Romney campaign that has already been plagued with blunders.