Down nine points in some polls, Mitt Romney was desperate so he made a daft move in selecting Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate. Historians will not look favorably upon this action and it marks the beginning of the end for Mitt Romney’s dream of becoming president.
From this point forward the entire campaign will be boiled down to two items:
1) Romney’s missing tax returns and his offshore bank accounts
2) Paul Ryan’s draconian budget that will cut aid to the poor and middle class while tinkering with Medicare
The media portrayed the move as big and bold, but that is only in comparison to the boring and bland former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Senator Rob Portman. What this pick did was highlight Romney’s charisma deficit, in comparison with Ryan, and saddled the presidential nominee with an outlandish budget proposal.
Many pundits, tired of the scorched earth personal attacks from both sides in this campaign, welcomed Ryan as an opportunity to have a real debate on the future direction of this nation. That’s not going to happen because this is America. For example, we don’t have real debates on gay rights – we have mini-wars over chicken sandwiches at Chick-fil-A. We do not have real discussions on censorship and the FCC – we have pitched battles over Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.
This campaign will be no different – with the Republicans hinting that Obama is a secret socialist from Kenya who hates Israel almost as much as “job creators.” And the Democrats will portray Romney as a secretive tax cheat who delights in canning workers and chose a VP nominee who wants to trash Medicare and Social Security.
The problem for the Republicans is that much of their attacks on Obama are completely fabricated. The President was born in America, supports capitalism, and has been quite friendly to Israel, providing arms and assistance, as well as pressure on Iran.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ criticism of Romney, while often exaggerated, contains more than a few grains of verifiable truth. The GOP nominee still has not released more than a year of tax returns, making voters wonder what he is hiding. The offshore bank accounts appear shady, like he is a shifty character in a James Bond movie. Romney’s wealth did not come from inventing a revered new product or service – it came from a combination of inheritance and buying companies, then often firing a large number of people to facilitate a turnaround. And Paul Ryan’s budget actually does venture into Third Rail politics by slashing or altering popular entitlement programs that senior citizens have grown to love. Because these elements provide so much smoke, it will be much easier for Democrats to convince voters that there is a fire.
I keep thinking back to the birth of the Tea Party when a parade of useful stooges held signs that read, “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare.” If anything, the mindless majority of ill-informed voters will learn that Medicare and Social Security are government programs. Once they do, the sales job for Team Romney becomes infinitely more difficult.
Ryan’s budget is quite clear about who gets hammered – the middle class and the poor – with deep cuts to safety net programs. It is also evident that the wealthiest Americans get huge tax breaks. Ryan never specifies, however, how he will pay for the giveaways to millionaires and billionaires, except to say he will close loopholes. But, the VP nominee is vague about which loopholes – and until he answers this question, it will dog his campaign and ultimately undermine it.
Romney will be forced to distance himself from Ryan by coming up with a detailed budget of his own. The specificity will help fill his empty suit, but it will also provide new angles of attack from Democrats, who will exploit Romney’s own disregard for middle class families.
Ryan’s greatest asset is thought to be his youthful and energetic appearance, but his appeal to younger voters is limited because he is rather old school on social issues. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay organization, gave Ryan’s record a rating of Zero every session of Congress – except once when he received a whopping 10 percent. His pro-life positions and his hardcore Catholicism (minus the inconvenient help the poor part) will further erode his support among college age voters.
If that’s not enough, the VP nominee has a cozy relationship with billionaires David and Charles Koch, who spend vast amounts of money trying to portray climate change as a hoax. The youth gap on social issues might grow even further when Ryan is the keynote speaker at the Values Voter Summit in September, an annual event where conservative politicians bow down to religious extremists.
Third Rail Ryan may have electrified the base, but it did so at the cost of electrocuting the Romney campaign, which is now saddled with Ryan’s budget.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”