Twitter/BooMan23: Ryan probably sealed his selection when he wet his pants while shaking Romney’s hand
The US economy is growing at what Americans consider an anaemic 1.5% – a rate most Europeans can only dream about. President Obama is languishing in the polls at a 46% job approval rating (49% disapprove) and at 39% – 53% disapproval on the Economy. And yet he leads Romney by a fairly consistent 2-3% average in the polls, and more in most of the critical swing states which determine the outcome of the Presidential election college.
Romney has been running what has been quite possibly the most incompetent political campaign in the history of US Presidential elections and yet remains in with a 28% chance of winning largely because of record donations from his billionaire and millionaire backers to “Superpacs” which market him as a brand rather than attempt to engage in any kind of rational political or policy debate.
And now Romney has nominated as his Vice Presidential running mate a man who has built his reputation on proposing budgets which give massive tax breaks to millionaires whilst turning Medicare into an insurance voucher programme and privatising social welfare: proposals which poll some way south of chlamydia in popularity whenever explained to the electorate. Indeed Booman has been arguing for some time that the Democrats chief problem up until now has been in convincing voters that the Ryan Budget plan could actually contain such wildly unpopular elements.
So what gives?
First, let us consider Romney’s conduct of his campaign:
Mitt Romney has five obvious things on his resume that might count in his favor as someone who could be a good president. Let’s look at them.
1. He received an excellent education, going to a top prep school, graduating at the top of his class at BYU, and getting dual graduate degrees in business and law from Harvard. However, he decided to attack his opponent for his Ivy League connections and thereby lost the ability to tout his own educational credentials.
2. He became a multimillionaire by running a private equity firm. But he just spent two weeks trying to convince us that he left that firm four years earlier than he actually did because he doesn’t want to be associated with the firm’s activities.
3. He ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But after his trip to the London Olympics, the last thing Mitt will want is for anyone to mention the words “Romney” and “Olympics” in the same paragraph.
4. He was the governor of Massachusetts. But he renounced his biggest accomplishment as governor, and he didn’t bother to run for a second term because he would have been soundly defeated.
5. He’s an upright and moral family man. But he won’t let us see his taxes or examine his secret foreign bank accounts, and he just threw his wife and her dressage horse under the bus on international television in return for what he perceived to be some kind of short-term political gain.
He doesn’t want to talk about his religion. He doesn’t want to be associated with the company that made him rich. He doesn’t want to talk about his record as governor of Massachusetts, which involved the third-worst job creation in the nation, an assault weapons ban, and the template for ObamaCare. He doesn’t want to talk about the Olympics. He doesn’t want to talk in any detail about the Paul Ryan budget he has endorsed. He doesn’t want to talk about his Ivy League education. He doesn’t want to be associated in any way with his wife’s horse. He doesn’t want to talk about his tax returns or his offshore bank accounts. He doesn’t want to talk about his time at prep school. He doesn’t want to talk about his plans to build a car elevator in his garage. He doesn’t want to talk about the time he strapped his dog to the top of his station wagon. He doesn’t want to talk about where he differs from George W. Bush. He doesn’t want to take a stand on anything. He doesn’t want to talk about why he’s changed his position on almost every issue under the sun, including abortion
Polls 12 weeks out from the election can be volatile and misleading, although this year they have been remarkably stable to date. The closer it gets to election day, the harder it gets to turn the tide. There are perhaps three major planned opportunities for a challenger to change the game at this stage: Naming his VP running mate, the Party nominating convention, and the October television debates. All can produce a bounce in the polls, although the effect tends to be temporary.
So how is Romney likely to do with his Ryan pick? Again, please allow me to channel Booman:
First, let’s look at what picking House Republican Paul Ryan didn’t do.
1. It didn’t help Romney with women.
2. It didn’t help Romney make any inroads with blacks, Latinos, Asians, or Muslims.
3. It didn’t boost confidence in a Romney administration’s preparedness to handle foreign policy, a la Dick Cheney.
4. It didn’t force the Obama administration to defend new territory.
5. It didn’t deflect attention from Romney’s tax returns/avoidance.
6. It didn’t help Romney move to the middle.
7. It didn’t isolate Romney from the wildly unpopular House Republicans.
And let’s look at what picking Ryan did do:
1. It forced Romney to try and fail to distance himself from Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Romney now says he would have signed Ryan’s budget, and he therefore owns a budget plan so unpopular that people don’t even believe it was actually proposed.
2. It locked Romney in to a plan that raises taxes on lower middle class folks while effectively zeroing out his own taxes.
3. It locked Romney into a program that voucherizes Medicare, and twins him with a candidate who wants to privatize Social Security.
4. It, therefore, weakened Romney substantially with white working class voters and with seniors, who both hate the Ryan Budget with a white hot passion once they learn the details of it.
5. It saved the Obama administration the cost and difficulty of tying Paul Ryan and the House Republicans to Mitt Romney.
6. It created the best conceivable opening for Democrats running in difficult heavily-white states and districts.
7. It turned a battle of personalities, which polls showed Romney was losing narrowly, into a battle of ideologies, which polls show Romney will lose decisively.
Lets add some numbers to this:
Congressmen rarely do well in Presidential elections in any case, but Ryan is a leading member of a Congress with an 11% approval rating and 68% disapproval. Makes President Obama’s numbers look positively rosy.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (and fellow Mormon) has alleged that a Bain investor told him that Romney has paid no income taxes on his hundreds of millions of income over the past 10 years: a claim Romney hotly denies without being willing to release his tax records to prove his case. But the Ryan budget plan would copper-fasten this situation into the future by eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends (Romney’s main source of income) thus reducing Romney’s future tax liability to less than 1% of income without any continuing need to use Swiss banks accounts and Cayman Island tax shelters.
Even Romney’s worst detractors concede Romney is a smart guy even if he is tone deaf politically and prone to verbal gaffes. So why is he pursuing an apparently failing strategy which has his Democratic opponents overjoyed? A number of “psychologistic” explanations have been offered, revolving around the theme that Romney knows he will lose and wants to inoculate himself against the wall of blame that is likely to come his way from conservative Republicans by appointing their darling to the ticket.
But the truth may be more prosaic. Romney is heavily dependent on his billionaire and millionaire backers and they may have insisted that their champion be included on the ticket. No one has more brazenly championed the reduction of taxes on the wealthy than Ryan. Romney is already out-raising Obama by a considerable margin, but his strategy seems to be almost entirely TV advertising led which is an expensive way to campaign.
Advertising isn’t about logic, or rationality, or policy, or even about personality. It’s about building a brand and creating negative fears about the competition. It’s about associating your brand with perceived positive characteristics like “success”, “wealth”, “freedom”, “low taxes” and “security” whilst associating your opponent with “failed economic policies”, envy, red tape, high taxes, and terrorism.
It is a fact free world where actual product or service quality is irrelevant and perception is everything. Perceptions are largely subliminally and emotionally driven at a subconscious level – appealing to sexual desires, material needs, racial fears, pet hatreds, and class aspirations. Who wants to be associated with an elitist, smarter than you lawyer who wants to regulate everything and give your hard earned money to others (particularly blacks)? You want to be successful and rich like Romney, don’t you?
The Rmoney Ryawn ticket is a business proposition, not a political one. It raises the cash required for an almighty product launch and re-branding exercise unrelated to the actual policies and leadership style on offer. Romney freely and frequently tells complete and verifiable lies about President Obama and is rarely called on it by a corporate media operating on a “he said, and then he said – both sides are doing it” principle and doing little by way of fact checking or independent analysis.
This election could still be a lot closer than it currently looks. The campaigns are operating out of almost completely different paradigms which rarely connect. In one, money and free speech are more or less the same thing, as are corporations and people, a fact now legitimised by the Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision. Politics is a business and its money that counts, and potential hostile voters should be suppressed wherever possible. In the Democratic paradigm, the state still has a legitimate (if shrinking) role, and people have rights as people, not simply as employees, investors and consumers. The market is a servant of the people and not their God.
This is a pretty existential battle for the soul of the USA, and with a Rmoney Ryawn ticket it is very much game on. But whereas the Romney strategy has always been to turn the election into a referendum on Obama’s (economic) performance in office, his nomination of Ryan may make it a referendum on billionaire tax breaks instead.