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Rob Horowitz: The Paul Ryan Selection

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


In 1980, when Ronald Reagan selected George Bush to be his running mate, the questions focused on whether Bush would support Reagan's positions.  Bush was pro-choice on abortion and had called Reagan’s supply-side proposal for a 30-percent income tax cut "voodoo economics." No one wondered where Reagan stood or thought for even 10 seconds that he would move to adopt the Bush platform. Mitt Romney has turned that all upside down with his choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to be his number two on the ticket.

The Ryan selection creates the unusual case of someone selected for the ticket because he supplies ideas and definition that have so far been missing from a presidential candidacy. The entire conversation since the selection has been about Romney embracing the Ryan budget which, among other controversial proposals, changes Medicare to a ‘premium support” program; Medicaid to a block grant program and puts forward deep tax cuts that go well beyond simply keeping the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

Notably missing from the discussion is any notion that Ryan will need to moderate his positions to back the platform of the Presidential nominee.  As conservatives ranging from William Bennett to Rich Lowry said over the weekend on national shows such as "Meet the Press", Ryan will supply the clarity and turn the campaign into one of "big ideas".

Ryan's selection -- a much riskier bet than the other two names most prominently mentioned, Sen Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty -- is a strong indication that Romney knows he has lost significant ground over the summer by failing to define his own candidacy and allowing the President's re-election campaign to fill in the blanks.

Romney’s unfavorable rating has risen to nearly 50 percent as the Obama campaign has successfully defined the former Massachusetts governor as out of touch with the middle class largely by classifying Romney’s company, Bain Capital, as a job outsourcer and by honing in on the candidate’s use of tax loopholes and foreign bank accounts. These attacks have worked well, in large measure because Romney has failed to explain how his business experience has prepared him to be President or to offer a compelling vision for how he would turn the economy around.

The Ryan selection provides Romney with an opportunity to provide that needed definition and to do it around a stark contrast with President Obama.  To be sure, many of Ryan’s specific ideas, such as the changes he offers in Medicare and further tax cuts for the rich, are unpopular and provide ripe targets for the Obama campaign. While Romney has announced he will release his own budget proposal, Ryan’s selection certainly limits his maneuvering room.  The Romney campaign, however, is gambling that the selection gives them the opportunity to return to the issues of jobs and long-term debt and that these are winning issues for the Republicans.

Romney deserves credit for realizing he needed a new approach to his campaign and he had to take a significant risk to accomplish that task. Now, it will be up to Romney himself to follow up the boldness of this selection by becoming a bolder, less-cautious candidate.  At the end of the day, only Romney can define his own candidacy through his speech at the convention; his debate performances; and a willingness to tell the nation specifically what he will do and why his life experiences equip him to be President

While President Barack Obama enters this decisive stage of the campaign with an advantage, it is one that Romney can still overcome. Romney, however, will need to demonstrate he is more than a minimally acceptable alternative to a President who remains liked and trusted by the American people despite the tough economy. The good news for Romney supporters is that the selection of Paul Ryan demonstrates that Romney understands the task ahead..

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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