House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is far from a safe vice presidential pick by Mitt Romney. A member of Congress who’s argued for massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare, Ryan has been relatively specific in his budget proposals, at least compared to Romney. While Ryan’s proposal leaves plenty of unanswered questions, what is not in doubt is that he would radically shrink the federal government and dramatically cut taxes on the rich, while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent of earners.
Ryan’s willingness to advocate suicidal fiscal policy has earned plaudits from the beltway, which has declared him “serious,” and from the extremely conservative wing of the Republican Party, which never saw a government program that didn’t need cutting, nor a tax for the rich that wasn’t too high. Ryan also is loved by social conservatives, and with good reason. Indeed, Ryan is the most conservative vice presidential candidate to serve on a major national ticket since at least 1900, and his voting record is very similar to that of conservative firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Conservatives will, no doubt, declare that the choice of Ryan proves that Mitt Romney is serious about shrinking the federal government and moving America back to an understanding of government that hasn’t been in vogue since before the Progressive Era. That is, in fact, the point. Not that Ryan’s pick proves anything of the sort — Romney has proven himself willing to support any position that benefits Romney — but rather that the pick makes conservatives more supportive of Romney’s candidacy.
Conservatives do not really like or trust Romney, and with good reason. Mitt’s record is heterodox, to say the least. At various points in his career, he’s been pro-choice, he once said he was more pro-gay than then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and the “Romneycare” bill he signed into law was the template for the Affordable Care Act. While Romney has claimed of late that he is “severely conservative,” actual conservatives view this rather like liberals would view Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., if he suddenly ran for president and began claiming to be to the left of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
The choice of Ryan is designed to heal that wound, or at least put a band-aid on it. Ryan lets conservatives back Romney less grudgingly, because they do trust Ryan to destroy the federal government, except for defense.
Romney will need a rock-solid base if he hopes to defeat President Barack Obama in November, but he also will need to win over independents and swing voters. That makes the choice of Ryan a decidedly risky move. Ryan’s plan polls extremely poorly, and the Obama campaign had been bludgeoning Romney with it even before Ryan was on the ticket. Moreover, while the Romney campaign might be hoping that Ryan would move the narrative off of Romney’s taxes and personal wealth, the Ryan plan would lower Romney’s taxes to a startling rate of 0.82 percent — and yes, that is zero point eight two.
Ryan’s plan won’t help Romney with the middle, and will probably hurt him there — which is precisely why Romney is already trying to distance himself from his proposed vice president’s budget.
Romney didn’t pick Ryan to appeal to the middle, though. He picked him to appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party, and by that measure, the pick will probably be successful. Whether rallying the base is enough to win the race for Romney, or whether Ryan turns out to be electoral poison — well, we’ll know that in less than three months.
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