Four years ago, when news broke of Sarah Palin’s selection as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, I happened to be with two of my more conservative friends. They were ecstatic about the choice, chatting excitedly together and believing it to be a political masterstroke that all but guaranteed victory for John McCain.
At the time, I didn’t know much at all about Palin, and what I did know made me dubious. But I remember being struck by how very differently they and I perceived the situation. It was as if they shared a perception of the world that I had no hope of tapping into or comprehending.
Today, four years later, we have Paul Ryan as the GOP vice presidential nominee, another pick that has excited the Republican base. But while Ryan is young and photogenic, he is also no Sarah Palin. He already has a career of consequence behind him, he takes his job and responsibility seriously and “gotcha” questions such as “what newspapers do you read?” are not going to cause him trouble. He is a qualified pick.
But something else is very different as well. On the surface, Republicans are very happy about the selection of one of their movement’s bright young stars. Democrats are equally thrilled by the pick. Somebody, it seems, is going to be very disappointed. And in GOP inner circles, there’s a deep fear about who that “somebody” is likely to be.
Here’s a sampling:
“There are a lot races that are close to the line we’re not going to win now because they’re going to battle out who’s going to kill grandma first, ObamaCare or Paul Ryan’s budget,” said one Republican strategist who works on congressional races. “It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that would have otherwise been safe. … It remains to be seen how much damage this causes, but my first blush is this is not good.”
Former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who chaired the NRCC from 2003-2006, warned that he foresaw in this election shades of President George W. Bush’s fight to create a voucher program for Social Security early in his second term, which many say cost the GOP seats in 2006.
“You saw what happened to Bush with Social Security in the 2006 election,” he said. “This is déjà vu.”
“Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington: Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong…
And the more pessimistic strategists don’t even feign good cheer: They think the Ryan pick is a disaster for the GOP. Many of these people don’t care that much about Romney — they always felt he faced an improbable path to victory — but are worried that Ryan’s vocal views about overhauling Medicare will be a millstone for other GOP candidates in critical House and Senate races.”
“I think it’s a very bold choice. And an exciting and interesting pick. It’s going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big,” said former President George W. Bush senior adviser Mark McKinnon.
And as Ronald Brownstein notes at National Journal, the choice creates an opening for Democrats among older downscale white voters, the demographic group that Republicans have come to rely upon more and more heavily with each passing political cycle:
“Ryan’s ambitious budget blueprint, as passed twice by House Republicans over the past two years, crystallizes the GOP’s highest policy priority: shrinking the size of the federal government, largely by dramatically restructuring entitlement programs led by Medicare and Medicaid. But 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.
Those attitudes haven’t stopped those voters from providing Republicans commanding margins in recent elections. But 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, in which Washington pays doctors and hospitals directly for care they provide to seniors, into a premium support or voucher system that would provide seniors a fixed sum of money to either purchase private insurance or buy into the existing program….
In March, the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll offered respondents two options for (Medicare). Just 19 percent of whites older than 65 endorsed Ryan’s approach, which said “Medicare should be changed to a system where the government provides seniors with a fixed sum of money they could use either to purchase private health insurance or to pay the cost of remaining in the current Medicare program.” Fully 74 percent of white seniors said instead that “Medicare should continue as it is today, with the government providing health insurance and paying doctors and hospitals directly for the services they provide to seniors.” Among non-college whites, 63 percent said they preferred the current system, while only 26 percent backed Ryan’s approach.
Ryan’s selection, in other words, seems to be an even bigger political gamble than the selection of Palin four years ago. In fact, in the pairing of Bain Capital executive Mitt Romney with Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan, President Obama may have been given precisely the opponents that he wanted most.
Given the economic situation, that doesn’t guarantee victory by any means. But I have to think that Obama likes his chances.
– Jay Bookman