| ||Tea Party hijacks Romney and the presidential race|
By Dinesh Sharma
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Ryan is in favor of building up defense spending and suggests that international-affairs and aid budgets need to be cut instead.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party ticket, has picked Paul Ryan, a seven-term congressman from Wisconsin, to be his running mate in this year's US presidential election. It resulted in waves of elation among the Tea Party and conservative Republicans, as it pushed Romney further toward the right wing of his party and away from the moderate center.
It has in effect reduced the former chief executive officer of Bain Capital, former governor of Massachusetts and CEO of the Utah Olympics to the titular head of a party that is controlled by narrow political interests and big corporate donors.
This is clearly the most populist US election we have seen in recent years. Both sides are appealing to a class-based economic message to arouse voters. It may be a bold move on Romney's part to pick Ryan, who is known as the deficit hawk, or it could backfire. It will take several weeks to know for sure whether the Romney-Ryan ticket can actually take on the now-formidable Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket.
The mathematics of different voter segments - women, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, LGBT - may support President Obama at this point in key states, but we still have 85 days in the campaign: The nominations and debates have not yet taken place. The dynamics of the race might change. However, the precious summer months have given Romney none or very little edge in the race.
Still, by making a purely economic argument about the deficit and federal budget with the Paul Ryan pick, Romney and his team may have figured out that they cannot win on any of the hot-button cultural issues. For instance, on the gender issue, including reproductive health and the women's vote, Romney has been behind in the polls.
On the issue of changing demographics, ethnicity and immigration, Romney has not been able to catch up with Obama. Thus in reaching out for Ryan over Chris Christie, Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal or Tim Pawlenty, Romney's team has decided that the spirit of compromise on the budget and deficit as outlined in the Simpson-Bowles plan is not a winning strategy. Other candidates clearly have much more executive experience than Ryan, who has been in government all his professional life.
Throughout the summer, Romney has been trailing in the polls, although it has been within the statistical margin of error. He has suffered the summer doldrums that visited John Kerry in 2004 and Mike Dukakis in 1988; Kerry was "Swift-boated", Dukakis was "Willie Hortonized", and Romney has been "Bained".
Now with Ryan on the ticket, will Romney stand to lose elderly voters too? Seniors and members of the retirees' interest group AARP might turn because of threats to Medicare posed by Romney-Ryan ticket. Will they gain enough younger voters to make up the difference?
Ryan is a follower of Ayn Rand and has suggested cutting Medicare funds for seniors and Pell Grants for college and university students. He wants to raise taxes on the middle class and give tax breaks to the wealthy. Finally, he believes social security is a "Ponzi scheme". Ryan's conservative-ideology score is even higher than former vice-president Dick Cheney's (+0.562 vs +0.531), and he is a darling of the Tea Party.
Romney's timing is interesting. He made his choice public potentially to change the conversation and try to recover some momentum lost during his trip to Britain and Israel. His approval ratings have remained stagnant, while Obama seems to have inched ahead by a few points. On the heels of his lackluster foreign-policy trip, Romney has picked a VP candidate who has limited foreign-policy experience.
Conservative pundits are happy with Romney's choice, seeing it as doubling down on Obama's perceived failures on the economy. But it appears from an international and global perspective that Romney is, rather, dumbing down the US political process and debate by focusing too narrowly on domestic interests within "the echo chamber". Romney has been co-opted, compromised and shrunk by the long-drawn-out primaries and the general election debate within his own party, which now makes him vulnerable to the Democrats.
When you write a political biography titled No Apology, it suggests to your readers that you're somehow forced to apologize for your "incredible success" or you feel the compulsion to be apologetic but you're defying it. To be apologetic is a very un-American attitude which apparently President Obama displays to foreign leaders, assert Romney supporters.
Ryan does have strong views on American exceptionalism, China and a range of other issues that directly impact America's competitiveness. In a speech delivered at the Alexander Hamilton Society last year, Ryan rejected isolationism and made a case for strong American presence around the world, arguing that a world without Pax Americana would be a chaotic place. He believes that American decline is not necessarily predetermined.
Ryan is in favor of building up defense spending and suggests that international-affairs and aid budgets need to be cut instead. He created a controversy by suggesting that the generals were not providing realistic estimates on defense spending: "We don't think the generals are giving us their true advice", he said about the military budget.
Ryan has been less hawkish than Romney on China and the rest of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa), proposing to work with them and to foster strong alliances toward common democratic ideals. He has expressed the same views vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the Arab Spring. Foreign Policy magazine has said: "Ryan's world view, in other words, appears to be a bit of a Rorschach test. And in a general election where appealing solely to the Republican base just won't cut it, that might be exactly what Romney needs."
While the last election was about America's large footprint in the world - two long wars and the multiplying effect of Bush fatigue - this election has magnified America's economic troubles at the expense of a long historical view on the global challenges the nation is facing.
Romney, who has the know-how and the requisite skills to lead the country in a bold manner, could have taken an expansive, internationalist, free-trade strategy by suggesting that Republicans think long and hard about "the American dream", but instead he seems to have settled on a short pass or a handoff toward the end-zone for a tactical gain. Whether it will deliver a victory in November is not clear.
Democrats could not be more pleased with the Republican choice. Obama's senior campaign strategist David Axelrod immediately informed supporters by e-mail: "In Ryan, Romney has selected a running mate best known for designing the extreme [Republican] budget that would end Medicare as we know it, and - just like Romney's plan - actually raise taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for an additional $250,000 tax break for millionaires and billionaires.
"As a leader of the House Republicans and a Tea Party favorite, Congressman Ryan has led the relentless, intensely ideological battle for these kinds of budget-busting policies that punish seniors and the middle class."
In selecting a "young gun" as a running mate - who displays passion, conviction and a loyal following - Romney seems to have conceded to his harshest conservative critics, who insist that he lacks the backbone or the key attributes to excite the base of his own party. Romney may have silenced his critics, but will the Romney-Ryan ticket draw enough independents, newcomers and younger voters to guarantee a win in November? This seems a highly risky strategy.
It may simply turn out that the Tea Party, now in effect represented by Ryan, has hijacked Romney and the race, taking middle America on a thrill-seeking ride for the next three months.