Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan Roundup

A number of pundits are weighing in on the Paul Ryan pick. Let's look at some of the more interesting ones,and I'll give you my take on them.

Jay Cost, consistently one of the smartest guys in the room says quite simply, that ObamaCare make a Vice President Ryan possible :

While it's true Democrats will run a Mediscare campaign like they did in 1996, Romney and Ryan have three powerful rejoinders this time around:

1. Medicare is already broken. We either reform it or let it destroy our public finances.

2. Obamacare exacerbates the problems in the Medicare system, since it takes $700 billion from Medicare to fund the newly created entitlement. Even the chief actuary for the Medicare and Social Security systems, Richard Foster, concludes that Obamacare will likely yield cutbacks in services to senior citizens rendered by Medicare.

3. While the original Ryan roadmap retains these Medicare cuts (though it eliminates the Independent Payment Advisory Board and uses them all to reduce the deficit rather than create a new program), Romney has indicated disagreement with this. Expect the ultimate Romney-Ryan plan to restore all funding to Medicare, just like the more recent Ryan-Wyden plan, which is cosponsored by Oregon's liberal senator Ron Wyden.

Combine these three points, and Team Romney can say that, if you're a senior citizen who is worried about Medicare, your best bet is to vote for the Republican ticket. The Republicans will protect the system; the Democrats are taking half a trillion from it over the next decade to fund a new entitlement. {...}

The country needs real changes to restore American greatness. A vote for Obama-Biden is a vote for unsustainability. A vote for Romney-Ryan is a vote for change, and therefore hope that America's best days are ahead. Or, we might say, Team Romney is all about hope and change -- a campaign theme that is known to work rather well!

Cost has a point here...if the campaign develops it properly. If they put out clear, hard hitting ads that emphasize the a vote for Romney-Ryan is a vote to save Medicare, I think it's a winner with seniors.

Sean Trende, the senior political analyst for Rea lClear Politics sees it differently.In his own words, he sees the Ryan pick as ' overall a middling-to-poor choice.' But he qualifies it:

But it isn’t a middling pick in the sense that there are a bunch of mushy pros and cons. The pluses and minuses are pretty stark.

Here are some additional thoughts on this (trying to avoid that which has already been said 500 times by others). First, the “not a bad pick” thoughts:

1) This is about Romney picking a veep he’s comfortable with. Ezra Klein writes that this “is an admission of fear from the Romney campaign. You don’t make a risky pick like Paul Ryan if you think the fundamentals favor your candidate.”

This is an easy answer, and it might be correct -- only a handful of people know what is going on in Romney’s inner circle, and what their polling is showing. But I don’t think so. Ryan is a risky pick, but not a panicked pick.

Perhaps most obviously, there wasn’t much evidence that Romney needed to panic. Unlike 2008, the Republican base is pretty well ginned up to vote this time around -- almost all the polling finds GOP enthusiasm outstripping Democratic enthusiasm -- and it has consolidated around Romney. The tracking polls have been stable for three months, as have the swing state polls, as have most of the polls of likely voters.

Indeed, if you were really worried about the Obama campaign’s efforts to tar you as an out-of-touch plutocrat who wanted to destroy the middle class, Paul Ryan would probably be your last choice for veep. Instead, I actually think a candidate like Marco Rubio would have been more of a “Hail Mary” than Ryan: Let’s take a relatively untested candidate from a state that we’ll only lose if we’re losing anyway, to try to win over an unfriendly demographic.

The simplest answer is this: Campaign analysts always say that vice presidential picks don’t matter, and the truth is, they don’t. Even Sarah Palin was something of a wash in 2008, according to the exit polls. The advice given is usually “just pick someone you’re comfortable with.” I really starting thinking seriously about Ryan a few days ago when someone commented that the Wisconsin congressman was the type of guy Romney would have hired at Bain Capital: young, smart, and energetic. It probably isn’t any more complex than that.

In fact, it could just as easily be that Team Romney is convinced that they have an excellent chance of winning, and that Ryan gives them an argument for a mandate to get things done (see No. 3 below) if they win. I don’t see this as the most likely scenario, but I think it’s about as likely as the “panic/fear” scenario.

2) The most commonly discussed negatives here are probably already baked in. I think this is the most important thing for people who are scratching their heads and wondering why Romney would do this. Romney was going to run on the Ryan budget plan no matter what -- in fact, many on the left argue that the entire point of the anti-Bain campaign was to soften Romney up for the Ryan-plan campaign in the fall. In other words, there actually might not have been a downside here.

3) There is ample reason for Democrats to be worried here. Unlike 2008, when the cupboard was so bare that McCain was actively looking at Democrats, there was something of an embarrassment of riches on the Republican side this year. One imagines that the Romney team anticipated the exact downsides that Democrats are chortling about this morning, and for whatever reason, is convinced that they are overstated. There’s something in the focus groups that has them pretty well convinced they can win this election with Paul Ryan on the ticket.

As for the “not a good pick” thoughts:

1) This is probably a missed opportunity for the Romney campaign. There are really two things that a vice president can do: Move the needle a few points in a key state (LBJ in 1960, Lieberman in 2000) or reinforce a message (Gore ’92). With a choice like Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio or Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Romney really could have made a difference in a swing state that could have put him over the top against Obama. Maybe Ryan will reinforce a positive message for Romney that allows him to win, but I’m still skeptical.

2) This probably improves Obama’s chances of winning. The Ryan plan doesn’t exactly have a great track record winning elections: It played a large role in the Republicans’ defeat in a special election in upstate New York in early 2011. Romney’s path to victory involves winning an outsized share of downscale white voters, and this plan presumably makes that task more difficult. Again, maybe the focus-group testing shows that opposition to the president is so strong among these voters that it just doesn’t matter, but I don’t think I’d bet the farm on this.

3) In fact, it opens up an Obama landslide scenario for the first time. I’ve always thought that Obama wouldn’t be able to win more than a two-to-three-point re-election victory, mainly because a president almost never wins the votes of people who disapprove of the job that he is doing, and Obama’s approval rating is unlikely to be much above 50 percent on Election Day. But, while I don’t think it’s guaranteed, this really does give Democrats an opportunity to make Romney so radioactive that people who don’t like the president nevertheless vote for him. If the white working class revolts at the prospect of the Ryan plan, Obama really could match, or even exceed, his 2008 showing.

4) These types of picks rarely end well. When we think back on the “bold” or “unexpected” picks in history, they rarely have good outcomes. Agnew in ’68, Eagleton in ’72, Ferraro in ’84, Quayle in ’88, Kemp in ’96, Palin in ’08 are all looked back on with disfavor. The “good” choices were almost always “safe” choices.

So while I say that something in the focus groups convinced Team Romney that it can win with Ryan, that doesn’t mean that Ryan is somehow bullet-proof. Far from it. Remember, something also convinced Walter Mondale that Geraldine Ferraro was the right choice.

As a final, overarching thought: Democrats should be careful what they wish for here. While I think it is tougher for Romney to win this election with Ryan on the ticket than without, the truth is that vice presidential picks rarely matter, and this race will always have the configuration of a referendum on the incumbent. Ronald Reagan didn’t exactly offer a mushy concoction of focus-group-tested platitudes, and yet he was still able to frame the election by asking people if they were better off than they were four years ago.

Democrats rubbed their hands gleefully at the prospect of facing Reagan in the general election, and the truth is that Reagan probably offered them more targets than, say, Gerald Ford would have. But the result was that the national conversation moved rightward for the following 30 years.

Trende makes an excellent point that the race is always going to be a referendum on the incumbent, no matter whom Romney had picked. The only two VP candidates Romney could have picked that might have been safer or help out electorally were Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell or Florida Senator Marco Rubio, but since only Romney's inner circle was privy to the vetting, we have no idea what their polling actually showed as far as Rubio or McDonnell carrying their home states, what other baggage they might have encountered, or even whether Rubio and McDonnell wanted the gig in the first place.

Another point that Trende alludes to but doesn't state directly is what I'll call the Reagan factor. Real conservatives who are articulate, state their ideas in terms ordinary Americans can understand and relate to voters on a gut level to almost always win elections.

Paul Ryan has that ability..right down to Ronaldo Maximus' famed affability when dealing with childish, hysterical lefties. He'll only get better as he gets more seasoned on the national stage.

Charles Krauthammer sees the same thing.

On the other hand, Trende is entirely right when he says that, based on what we know, Ryan was not a 'safe' pick. But then, I'm not sure that's what this election demands anyway. Ryan underlines the message of the Romney campaign and puts things in clearer terms, and, as I've mentioned, if Romney's challenge now is to give Americans a reason to vote for him rather than merely against Obama, this might have been exactly what was needed.

A.B. Stoddard over at the Hill sees it the same way:

In choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney not only surprised the political world late Friday night, but he has become a different candidate for president over night.

He is suddenly someone willing to take a risk, someone offering specifics instead of generalities, and someone willing to sell his own agenda to the voters instead of trying to bash his way into the Oval Office. And by embracing Ryan, and the controversial policy heft he brings to the ticket, Romney is now a serious candidate who has displayed true leadership — the willingness to do something politically dangerous because he believes it is the right thing to do.

Until now Romney was running a non-campaign on the hope that voters were simply ready, in such a troubled economy, to fire Obama. Polls this week showing Obama ahead in several battleground states and making headway with independent voters proved that strategy wasn't working.

Romney has muddled through the months since the primary, allowing Democrats and Team Obama to define him early as a "vulture capitalist" who won't release his tax returns, parks money overseas and couldn't have cared less about the companies Bain Capital loaded up with debt and sold while leaving workers without pension, healthcare or their homes. Romney's negatives have grown with each attack to historic numbers, the kind that don't get you elected.

Polls also show that the only undecided voters left — and there are not a lot of them — are the most disgusted with the campaign thus far and the least interested in voting. They know all they need to about Obama, and Romney now has less than three months to sell himself to them and tip the election his way with a running mate and message that provides a stark contrast to Obama and Vice President Biden.

Ryan is as appealing and convincing a messenger as Romney could find to campaign on the urgent need for austerity and fiscal rescue. Democrats are swooning at the prospect of attacking his Medicare overhaul once more, arguing his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program will devastate the safety net for seniors.

But Ryan is articulate, affable, and spin-free, which is why despite his lightning-rod policies, he has been reelected handily in his swing district so many times. Ryan isn't interested in just attacking Obama's policies, though he certainly will do so in his effective, friendly fashion. He refuses to demagogue or dodge the debate.

"If you're going to criticize then you should propose," Ryan told The New Yorker a few weeks ago. "People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, 'just criticize and don't do anything, and let's win by default.' That's ridiculous."

Nate Silver, over at the New York Times is another voice I like to look at when it comes to politics. He's a numbers guy, and he sees Ryan as dice toss made by a campaign that sees itself losing:

When is it rational to take a big risk?

When the status quo isn’t proceeding in a way that you feel is favorable. When you have less to lose. When you need — pardon the cliché, but it’s appropriate here — a “game change.”

When a prudent candidate like Mitt Romney picks someone like Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, it suggests that he felt he held a losing position against President Obama. The theme that Mr. Romney’s campaign has emphasized for months and months — that the president has failed as an economic leader — may have persuaded 47 or 48 or 49 percent of voters to back him, he seems to have concluded. But not 50.1 percent of them, and not enough for Mr. Romney to secure 270 electoral votes.

That reading may be correct. National polls tell different stories about the state of the race — but most have Mr. Obama ahead. Polls of swing states have been a bit more consistent. In states like Ohio, Mr. Obama’s lead has been small — but it has been steady and stubborn.

The forecast model I developed for FiveThirtyEight, which accounts for state and national polls and the condition of the economy but not other factors, estimated as of Friday that Mr. Obama was about a 70 percent favorite to win re-election. Betting markets and bookmakers have been slightly more equivocal, but have also had Mr. Obama ahead, generally giving him between a 60 and a 65 percent chance of winning a second term.

Either prediction allows for plenty of winning scenarios for Mr. Romney. Even three months out, the economy is very difficult to forecast. With a growth rate of only 1.5 percent in the second quarter, a blowup in Europe, or in the Middle East, could send it back into recession.

Even without that, there are still some undecided voters left: not many, but a few. It is not the case, as a general rule, that undecided voters tend to break against the incumbent. (You can safely ignore someone on your television set who says the opposite: they haven’t done the research.) But it’s also not necessarily the case that the undecideds will split evenly. In some elections, one candidate (either the incumbent or the challenger) wins most of them. It could be Mr. Romney, especially since his campaign figures to have more money to spend on advertisements in the remaining months.

The ability to perform an honest self-assessment is rare for all of us. Mr. Romney, in making this outlook, may have been aided by his background in seeking to turn around distressed companies.

Why am I concluding that Mr. Romney would have chosen Mr. Ryan only if he felt he was losing? Because from a Politics 101 point of view, this isn’t the most natural choice.

Vice-presidential choices are inherently risky to a degree, but the risks are asymmetric, and weighted toward the downside: It’s far easier to name choices who undermined campaigns than those who helped them. The best way to mitigate that downside risk is to select someone who has been tested on a national stage before, ideally by having run for president themselves — or failing that, by having been elected multiple times from a large and diverse state.

Mr. Ryan is a national figure of some repute — before Saturday morning, his national name recognition was about 50 percent — but he has never been elected to anything larger than his Congressional district of about 700,000 people. Members of the House of Representatives have only occasionally been selected as running mates. The last one on a winning ticket was John Nance Garner, the speaker of the House, in 1932. The last time an ordinary member of the House was elected vice president, and the last Republican, was more than 100 years ago: in 1908, when William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman, a New York congressman, were chosen by voters. (Coincidentally, that fall was also the last time that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.)

Politics 101 suggests that you play toward the center of the electorate. Although this rule has more frequently been violated when it comes to vice-presidential picks, there is evidence that presidential candidates who have more “extreme” ideologies (closer to the left wing or the right wing than the electoral center) underperform relative to the economic fundamentals.

Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. {...}

Taking risks like these is not what you do if you think you have a winning hand already. But Mr. Romney, the turnaround artist, decided that he needed to turn around his own campaign.

It’s going to take some time before we can reliably measure the impact of Mr. Romney’s choice. Vice-presidential picks sometimes produce “bounces” in the polls, especially when they are as newsworthy as this one, but they often fade after a few days or a few weeks. And the party conventions, which almost always produce polling bounces, are coming up soon.

Personally, I see the polls as showing a different story than Nate Silver does, with the president's approval rating well below 50% and 62% of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track. Especially when you discount joke polls like CNN's and others based on registered voters (only 63% of whom voted in 2008), with their huge oversampling of Democrats.

Gallup and Rasmussen, who base their polling on likely voters show President Obama's approval rating at 43% and 45%, respectively. Gallup shows the president and Mitt Romney tied, while Rasmussen actually shows Romney two points ahead.

I personally don't see this as a desperation move by a losing campaign so much as a way to energize the GOP base and define the Romney candidacy. But as Silver says, it's going to take some time to show how Ryan affects the campaign.

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