When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tapped Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman, to be his running mate, progressives went on a happy-thon. That Romney chose the House Budget Committee chairman known as the architect of draconian budgets that would make huge cuts in every aspect of the safety net -- not to mention his quest to turn Medicare into a voucher program -- just seemed like a major blunder. My colleague, Joshua Holland, called it Romney's biggest mistake. Many were gleeful and shocked that Romney would seemingly play right into the Obama message on how the Romney agenda harms the middle class.
But I wasn't so happy. The Romney decision signals several things about the future, and none of them good -- rather scary and ugly, as a matter of fact. My gut told me that, for the Republican vice presidential candidate, I would much rather have a non-entity like Portman or Pawlenty as the Republican than a right-wing rock star. Any day.
Progressives are right when they say Ryan represents everything that shows how out of touch the Republicans are with the needs of the country. But they are not looking at Romney's Ryan decision for what it is -- a hugely dangerous step toward getting the Koch brothers' hand-picked star right to the verge of the presidency, which, if it should it come to pass, could dramatically transform the nature of American politics for our lifetimes. Whether Romney wins or loses, the Ryan pick poses a threat to the well-being of the nation.
If Romney wins, then Ryan occupies the Number Two spot with a money base and huge constituency of his own, far more than any vice president has ever enjoyed. With his own leadership PAC and a close relationship to the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity astroturf group, it is hard to imagine how Ryan doesn't immediately become a co-president or, at least, the most powerful V.P. in history. And, and this is a win-win for Charles and David Koch, the right-wing billionaire brothers: If Romney loses, then Paul Ryan is sitting pretty to be the nominee in 2016, when there is no incumbent ... a far easier race to win after eight years of President Barack Obama, the Democrat, presiding over a difficult economy whose recovery Republicans have done everything they can to obstruct. I have always felt that many conservatives intent on taking over this country, known for their long vision and patience, have this strategy.
And on the ugly side, the choice of Ryan says this Romney campaign, in contrast to even the McCain campaign, will be a no-holds-barred, vicious personal attack on Obama and everything associated with the Democrats -- scapegoating unions, public employees, poor people, immigrants, people characterized by Ryan as the "takers, not the makers." This is the way the conservatives know how to win campaigns, and they are going all out to rip the Dems to shreds. If it doesn't quite work in in this year's presidential race, they could very well control of both houses of Congress come January.
Here are ten reasons that Romney pulled the trigger on Ryan, and why they make a lot of sense:
1. Romney was in danger of losing badly, so a gamble was worth the risk.
The polls and trends were going in the wrong direction as Obama was ahead by 9 percent among all voters and 11 percent among independents. As Michael Goodwin writes in the New York Post:
Romney was on course to lose the election ... perhaps by a landslide ... Independents, despite being unhappy with Obama, were even more unhappy with Romney. And too many Republicans remain unenthusiastic about their party's nominee.
So Romney had to do something to energize the campaign, or he was dead in the water. Pick Ryan.
2. Romney is now seen as bold. By picking a controversial choice, a young, mediagenic, so-called brainy numbers guy, and one loved by the conservative base, Romney passed up the gaggle of more boring white guys who populated the pundits' predictions to pick the radical one. But here, in fact, Romney has it both ways. Ryan is not a Palin or a Rubio -- a wild card -- but rather a well-positioned Republican with major mainstream and corporate credibility, whom the media often has gone ga-ga over. And Ryan is an insider -- Erskine Bowles (the co-chair of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission and rumored to be the next Secretary of the Treasury) has lavished lots of praise on to Ryan, who served on the commission, as have many others.
3. Did I mention Ryan is Catholic? We hear how the conservative Catholic bishops are trying to push Catholic voters to Romney, who has obviously come late to his anti-abortion stance. And among Catholic voters, Romney's Mormonism isn't exactly a plus. Still any anti-abortion politician is better than Obama in the bishops' minds. For the bishops, their task became easier with Ryan (even if they have a problem or two with his budget proposal), who is as conservative as they come, being against abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Those Catholics who are inclined to vote conservative are now very excited. And, in fact, it's not just far-right Catholics to whom Ryan appeals. A lot of voters in this country, for some reason, really like candidates who stick to rigid principles, even if those principles contradict their own. Ryan will get some of those voters.
4. Romney now has even more money. Romney has been doing fine, raising hundreds of millions from investment bankers and other pots of big wealth from the 1/10th of the top 1 percent. Still the Ryan choice is a huge motivator to the group of rabid right-wing billionaires around Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who fund and raise money for right-wing candidates, and an array of right-wing groups. Ryan has been a Koch favorite for years, supported and featured in myriad ways. The Kochs have promised, with Karl Rove, to raise $400 million for the so-called "independent super PACs." Now, with all those billionaires jazzed over Ryan, the sky may be the limit. There is talk of the super PACs and the Romney campaign raising and spending $1.2 billion -- and now maybe even more.
5. Romney gets the full Koch election infrastructure. Solidifying the alliance with the Kochs is even more about infrastructure than campaign dollars, which will be plentiful. As my colleague Adele Stan, who covers the Kochs and conservative election field operations, explains:
The Kochs, via Americans for Prosperity and Faith and Freedom Coalition, own the infrastructure for the ground game in the swing states. They've been building it for years. That's not something any amount of money can build in the three months leading up to the election. Romney really, really needs Koch buy-in.
6. Ryan seals the deal for a base-motivating campaign in the worst tradition of the Republicans. Republicans win when they run to their base and play the "us versus them" card for their anxious constituencies. Voter suppression tactics of all sorts are in play, especially in Florida and Pennsylvania. Taken together, Ryan's earnest demeanor and brutal budgets act as an a elixir for grassroots conservatives; the base will now be super-motivated.
Bush won two terms without winning the majority of the popular vote because the GOP wanted the win more than the Democrats -- and Republicans cheat more. As Thomas Schaller writes:
By picking [Ryan], Romney provides a powerful signal that he is willing to counter Obama's failed attempt to unite America with an unapologetic attempt to win via econo-demographic divide and conquer politics.
7. The Romney campaign will now be the most brutal, race-tinged, fact-absent, expensive, technologically sophisticated campaign ever run. This presidential race is increasingly polarized. Polling shows that Obama has lost most of the non-college-educated white male voters he was able to capture in 2008. As Charles Blow points out in the New York Times:
A staggering 90 percent of Romney supporters are white. Only 4 percent are Hispanic, less than 1 percent are black and another 4 percent are another race.
And of uncommitted "swing" voters, Blow writes:
Nearly three out of four are white. The rest are roughly 8 percent blacks Hispanics and another race.
Schaller adds: "Don't be surprised in the Romney-Ryan ticket engages in the sort of racially tinged, generationally loaded entitlement politics practiced by the Tea Party ..."
8. While the V.P. pick isn't going to change the mind of many independent or hard-core party voters, it is a move to bring all elements of the party in sync. Progressive pundits, just a few days ago, were saying: Oh, the V.P. pick doesn't make much difference ... maybe, at best, a 2 percent swing. Today is apparently a new day, and progressives are pouncing on this choice as being a huge plus for Obama. Well, ya can't have it both ways. Republican wins are always about turning out the base to the polls. Ryan probably won't make that much difference on the large scale, but he becomes the thunderbolt to rouse the base, which appears to love him, even if he is a media-created fraud. In fact, Ryan may be the most effective political phony in America.
9. Repeat: Paul Ryan is the most effective phony in American politics today. When Romney picked Ryan, he was grabbing one of the great teflon politicians of all time. Ryan has a tremendous ability to appear earnest while lying through his teeth, as he did recently when he repeated Romney's lie about Obama and welfare work requirements. Ryan represents what Joan Walsh calls the "fakery at the heart of the Republican project today." She adds:
[Ryan,] the man who who wants to make the world safe for swashbuckling, risk-taking capitalists hasn't spent a day at economic risk in his life.
Guys like Ryan "somehow become the political face of the white working class when they never spent a day in that class in their life," writes Walsh. He has, she says, a "remarkable ability to tap into the economic anxiety of working class whites and steer it toward paranoia that their troubles are the fault of other people -- the slackers and the moochers, Ayn Rand's famous 'parasites' ..."
10. The Conservative tribe is now ready to fight all of its enemies. The conservatives and Republicans know what team they are on -- and that tribal identity is more important to them than any idea of hegemonic cultural identity could possibly be to liberals. For one, the conservative team is almost totally white, and far more homogenous, while more than 43 percent of Obama's supporters are people of color. Add in the conservative brand of resentment -- the "makers versus the takers" -- and it becomes clear who represents the conservative notion of a "maker." With Ryan as the standard-bearer for the self-described "makers," the team has its galvanizer.
The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his researchers have compiled a catalog of "six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity."
Among them, he finds that group loyalty and identification is important among conservatives, but not among liberals. As William Saletan describes Haidt's thesis in the New York Times Book Review:
Social conservatives see welfare and feminism as threats to responsibility and family stability. The Tea Party hates redistribution because it interferes with letting people reap what they earn. Faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order — these Republican themes touch all six moral foundations, whereas Democrats, in Haidt’s analysis, focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression.
Come election time, that array of values makes the Republican project more formidable. It is why, when conservative ideas are not popular, when significant majorities of Americans disagree with conservatives, conservatives still have enormous capacity to exercise outsized influence and to control much of the public debate -- and they are on the doorstep of winning control of all three branches of government. Despite their minority status, the tribal thing still leverages far more power than is fair or many thought possible.
In the end, it doesn't really matter whether Romney picked Ryan out of desperation, or if he may have had to take Ryan as part of a deal for support from the Kochs, or if he may have felt Ryan was actually the best man for the job. Whatever the reason, the Ryan pick does a whole lot for the Romney campaign -- conferring money, authority, media attention, change of tone, and more. Probably the most overarching plus, though, is that by adding Ryan, Romney has brought the whole Republican-conservative tribal deal together, which, from my vantage point only increases -- not decreases -- the chance of the Republicans defeating Obama in November.