11:19 am Aug. 13, 2012
Josh: What do you think of the rollout so far?
Steve: My guess is that the negative stuff isn't necessarily what's sinking in with the casual voter yet. Much of the coverage is just about how "bold" and surprising the pick is. So maybe Romney gets a small boost now and a bigger one at the convention (where Ryan will probably make a good impression), but then weeks of a slow bleed as the attacks sink in and start to affect day-to-day coverage of the campaign.
Josh: Not a risk a campaign would normally take with a VP pick if they thought things were going well, I presume.
Steve: I started to think they might pick Ryan when the Romney tax-return stuff started to reach critical mass and he started to fall farther behind Obama. I get the logic from their standpoint, but I doubt it will work (at least not for three whole months), and it's definitely not the move they'd have made if they felt good about where they are.
Josh: Could it be that they actually do think they're in the position Dole was in 1996, as you suggested? Are the Romney people that pessimistic about where things are?
Steve: I think so. Dole was down bigger against Clinton and, in hindsight, was in a hopeless spot. But his instinct was to find a Big Idea (massive tax cut!) and a bold running mate to go with it and to try to shake up the race. And it also had to be a Big Idea and a VP choice that motivated the base, which was pretty down on him and his chances at that point. Same with Romney now. Conservatives have been reacting to his 3-5 point deficit against Obama the same way they reacted to Dole's 15-20 point gap against Clinton.
Josh: What do you think the argument was for Ryan within the Romney campaign?
Steve: I'd say three things besides what it means to the base, which is not insignificant:
(1) Unlike Portman or Pawlenty, it would be greeted by the press as a "bold" pick and would grab people's attention, and unlike Chris Christie, who would be seen as bold, there wouldn't be as much concern about him going off-message or being in it for himself and 2016 positioning;
(2) This at least offers Romney a chance to show people he's about something and to portray himself as some kind of principled teller of hard fiscal truths (if only because so much of the media has been willing to buy into that image of Ryan). And if Dems were going to use the Ryan budget against him anyway, why not try to turn the tables?; and
(3) By all accounts, there really is a good personal rapport between Romney and Ryan. So if you're Romney, why not pick someone you'd be comfortable governing with?
Josh: What does the Obama campaign do now? Do they let up on the Bain-tax stuff (which seems to have been working) and engage on entitlements?
Steve: Doubt there's much let-up on Bain. My sense is they see a natural link between that and the Ryan budget that they'll want to exploit. The idea is: these are exactly the kinds of governing priorities that a profits-crazed corporate raider who lives a pampered top-1 percent lifestyle free from the pain of the Great Recession would have. If anything, I'd say they think the Ryan stuff fleshes out the Romney narrative they're pushing.
Josh: Well, is there any reason to believe there will be diminishing returns to the attacks on Romney at some point? The rationale here seems to be that Ryan's an affirmative, positive-sounding guy, and that the contrast to the prevailing tenor of the campaign will be "refreshing." So the Romney surrogates are going to keep saying words like "mud" and "blood" when talking about the Obama campaign, and talking about how Americans are "tired" of negativity. Are we? Does that work?
Steve: Well they're right that Ryan presents himself well and has gotten a lot of slack from the media these last few years. Think how many times you've heard some version of, "He's serious. And at least he has a plan."
But the reality is that Ryan's plan seriously alters the basic nature of an extremely popular program, and because he won't specify what deductions and loopholes he'll go after, it also makes it easy for Dems to make graphic suggestions about what things would have to be cut to make his numbers add up.
To me, the bottom line is that it won't be hard for Democrats to make voters see Ryan's budget as a logical extension of the Tea Party extremism they now associate with House Republicans (which is why House Republicans and the Republican label in general have polled so poorly these past few years).
I doubt Ryan helps Romney win the White House, but this is a huge intraparty step-up for Ryan, so if nothing else we probably saw a 2016 candidacy launched with his selection.
Josh: I somehow doubt it'll be much consolation to Romney if that's the way it turns out. But I guess at least he has guaranteed an exceedingly high-spirited Republican convention, and may even have gotten Charles Krauthammer off his back for a while. Winning Florida isn't everything, is it?
Steve: Neither, I guess, is doing everything possible to protect the House majority and maximize chances for a Senate pick-up.