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Like some hardcore conservatives, I was pleasantly surprised today to learn that Congressman Paul Ryan will be the Republican nominee for the Vice Presidency. This is a choice so unnecessary and unhelpful that it is helpful to catalog the ways in which it is dumb. I am very pleased to report to you, dear readers, the many, many ways Mitt Romney blew the race for the White House today.
First, Ryan is an illogical pick based on geography, as Romney is unlikely to gain Wisconsin by picking him. Yes, he has a 38/33 favorability/unfavorability rating in Wisconsin, and yes, he is from Wisconsin. But that state models out to something like a 6 point Obama advantage. There are polls suggesting that Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin is running roughly even with her strongest GOP opponent, Tommy Thompson. But if you look at polling in the last few months, Obama is running better against Romney than Baldwin is running, and her race will be close. Put yet another way, remember those 18% of voters in the Wisconsin recall election who opted to keep Scott Walker but prefer Obama to Romney? A severely conservative Medicare-destroying local Congressman is not going to peel them off. Ryan has no geographic upside.
Second, and more importantly, Ryan blows Florida for Romney, which is a death blow to his campaign. In recent weeks, Flo-rida had been trending right round to Barack Obama and away from Romney, culminating in the likely overstated but telling Quinnipiac poll showing Obama up by 6. Part of the hope in traveling to Israel was to win a larger percentage of older Jewish voters who are strong for Israel in a variety of swing states, most notably Florida. Yet by picking the author of the Ryan budget, Romney has handed Obama a potent wedge that will keep seniors in the Democratic column to a degree sufficient that Obama's win chance in Florida probably shot from 60 to 80% plus; I still think (with apologies to Rootman) that Rubio would have delivered Florida. We will never know.
Third, Romney lost a chance to play against type and redefine himself. He could have chosen Sen. Kelly Ayotte and taken a shot at the gender gap. Man-With-a-Plan Ryan, with a voting record as far right as Michele Bachmann (the most conservative voting record and the furthest from the center, Nate Silver assures us, of any Vice-Presidential nominee since 1900), will bring Romney none of the gender appeal that could have softened his increasingly negative definition to independent voters. Romney lost the chance to portray the GOP as a bigger, broader tent by picking either Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. I differ with those who see those choices as pandering; they are all credible public servants to the same degree as Ryan. One could as well say, and might more reasonably say, that Ryan is a pander of a different sort. The party that consistently does well with white males has gone back to the one demographic it can expect to carry by a good margin. I thought "game theory" was taught at Harvard Business School. Snap! Guess not, oh well.
Fourth, Romney gave Obama the center. This election, if Romney was to win it, would not be won by base-revving. You do that when you're ahead. You polarize the remaining votes, attack where needed, and try to maintain your margin. It defines the Bush 2004 strategy, and increasingly, the Obama 2012 strategy. By picking someone further from the center than either major party has in a century, Romney played to the most extreme caricature of his party, and indeed, may have validated it for many reachable voters. As I said to my father last night, if Romney didn't already have a defined competency as the economic fix-it guy, what is he at all? He is now simply the guy who embraces the Greek austerity budget. The attack that Romney is the champion of class unfairness will resonate far more powerfully now that he at once champions tax cuts for the rich, has a second chair who does too, and wants to cut benefits to seniors. This allows Obama to be the defender of the cherished elements of the status quo, and allows him to explain that he tried to work with the Republicans in Congress but that they refused to deal with him.
Fifth, Romney listened to the idiot bloggers. I hate to break it to the Bill Kristols, Erick Ericksons and Rich Lowrys of the world, but bloggers are idiots. People on both sides are forever passing forward bromides about how what their team really needs is a more obdurately advanced, rigidly inflexible, dogmatic embodiment of their side's position. This is stupid, and reflects a childish need for self-validation that drowns out common sense. The Republican Party still doesn't get that Reagan won big in 1980 because of the utter unpopularity of Carter and the Iran hostage situation, and that a recovery fell into his lap. His great legacy was, ironically, propelling us into an era of unsustainable budgets. He dealt with Democrats in Congress, cut welfare less than Bill Clinton, raised taxes more than many Presidents, prosecuted less war than his three successors, and generally acted pleasant, which people liked. Ideological conservatives who spent the 80s misunderstanding and overestimating the meaning of their capture of the White House have spent thirty years droning about how if the Republican Party would simply nominate someone who matched their wishful, false vision of Reagan, their fantasy wish-fulfillment of political domination would come true. Like the South rising again, this is comically fanciful. Wake up, people -- nominating the Redstate version of Dennis Kucinich is the dumbest thing you will ever have done. Careful what you wish for 'cause you just might get it. And now you are going to get it, by 5 or more points, and more than 100 electoral votes.
Sixth, Romney may have given the House back to Obama. I don't think so, but he might have. As one of our contributors noted this morning, a Democratic operative gloated that the Democrats have spent the last eighteen months trying to make the 2012 House contest a referendum on the Ryan budget, and that Romney has now done it for them. I generally do my own analysis, but in this case will merely function as a stenographer, the wisdom of that thought being so painfully self-evident. Thanks, Mitt!
Seventh, Romney made the choice from weakness, reinforcing a narrative of his inevitable loss. Nate Silver, in a charitable bit of even-Stevening, found the choice thoughtful and reflective, because (he inferred) it reflected an awareness on Romney's part that he is behind; after all, it's unconventional to go harder right and thus, it means Romney is behaving in a more risk-preferring way because he is behind. If so, then it means Romney sees himself losing. This is the same type of decision-process that confronted Senator John McCain, who was counseled that his eventual VP choice was high risk and high reward. Seeing yourself losing, even if it is predictively accurate, can snowball on you as that narrative is carried forward, and as it prompts risk-taking. Another form of weakness is seems to have sprung from is that of needing to shore himself up on his right. But when you need to appease National Review Online with your Veep choice, well, yours is a bit of a vaporware campaign.
Eighth, Romney gave away what the primaries were about -- his supposed electability. He was the only candidate from among those Republicans who ran past fall 2011 who was "electable," whatever that means. He has now taken the mantle of his supposed pragmatism and moderation, and draped it with the bunting of rigid partisan orthodoxy. It is as if the point of the primaries was to signal to the base that Romney was not one of them, and then to the general election audience that he's actually not one of them either. This defies all conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is not always stupid. Here, it is a very bad omen for the future of the GOP -- that its supposedly anomalously moderate Presidential nominee cannot rely on his party to support him as such. It replicates the rightward ratchet that gave away the Senate in 2010. Is the Tea Party excited about this? Yep. Is it a bad idea? Just ask voters in Nevada and Colorado. They said no to this kind of Republican option in a lower turnout Senate race in 2010 with candidates less formidable than President Obama on the ballot. The rightward ratchet plays great in primaries, has nought to do with electability, and now has given away what the same right-wing pundits who got their way kept insisting -- insisting! -- was an election Romney would inevitably win anyway. Some thought leaders on the right in the media who advocated for this choice will not notice the tension between their assertion that Romney inevitably would win, and that his following their dumb advice made his already likely loss both worse and more likely.
Ninth, the House of Representatives is about as popular as diphtheria, and the Tea Congress in particular has a voting record that is largely toxic with the independent voter in a national election. So Paul Ryan is right there in our national sweet spot, along with James Traficant and the 1995 government shutdown. Go, House!
Tenth, whatever else you think. Like the Tenth Amendment, those arguments not otherwise enumerated above are reserved to the people. Can't have a blog about the ascent of the Tea Party without a good reference to the Bill of Rights.