Is the Roll Out of the Ryan Pick Already Spinning Out of Control?
The Democrat' campaign strategy to retake the White House this fall was simple and so well known it was printed in the Washington Post. Take GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's reform plans for Social Security and Medicare, somehow tie them to the GOP in general and Mitt Romney in particular, and then scare the bejesus out of seniors and voters in general.
The goal? Bog Romney down in a debate over entitlement reform (the old making seniors choose between their meds and food trick) as a way to distract everyone from talking about the economy, the one issue that is lethal to President Obama. If they could keep the conversation on Ryan's plan until election day, rather than on the economy, they could win.
Months before Romney picked Ryan, Democrats polled and focused grouped this strategy. The results were so disastrous for Romney, and so widely known, that they were published and republished in major publications long before Romney picked Ryan. Given this, that Romney would actually pick Ryan was unfathomable to much of the Democrat establishment.
In an Aug. 10 article titled, "Paul Ryan Will Not Be Mitt Romney's Running Mate," the author explained (again) why no sane GOP presidential nominee would pick Ryan:
"An August 1 poll the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner clearly lays out how Democrats would attack Ryan's plan and tie it like an anvil around Romney's neck. The pollsters first ask voters whether they support the Ryan plan by describing it in the most favorable possible terms. People support it by a 52 percent to 37 percent margin. But when the plan is framed with precise details on how it would affect people, three-fifths to two-thirds of them have serious doubts or very serious doubts about the Ryan plan. In short, all Democrats have to do is present the facts about Ryan's plan to make it a severe political liability for Romney."
Given that, Democrat strategists were probably flabbergasted by Romney's announcement of his selection of Ryan to be Romney's running mate. No doubt they had an irrational moment of panic when they found out. Had they somehow missed a hidden statistical advantage to the Ryan selection in their polling? They panicked, that is, until they found out that Romney's campaign hadn't focused grouped or studied the Ryan selection to see how it would play with the public at all. Not one poll. The Romney campaign was flying blind, going on Romney's gut, which is, shall we say, sometimes completely unreliable and often flat wrong when it comes to politics.
The Ryan pick could bring with it tremendous advantages for a campaign with a well thought-out strategy for using Ryan's earnest reformist record to their advantage and controlling the political conversation from the first stride off the starting block. Romney's is not that campaign.
In the two news cycles since the pick, it has become clear that handling the very foreseeable fallout from the Ryan vice presidential pick is far above the current capabilities of the Romney campaign. It took less than 24 hours for them to demonstrate that they just aren't capable of spinning it to their advantage. In fact, it may already be spiraling out of control.
The only hope the campaign had of benefitting from the Ryan pick was to use it to grab control of the national political conversation, and to pointedly make that conversation about one single, simple theme -- how unlike Ryan and Romney, Obama has no serious plan to improve the economy or fix America's long-term problems. Instead, within hours of the pick, Romney had already lost control of that conversation to the media, which wrote its own Ryan-is-a-disaster-for-seniors-and-the-Republic theme and ran with it. You can only blame the media so much for this. They are who they are, and Romney didn't offer them much of an organized story line. Can you summarize in one line the message sent by the pick? Romney couldn't either, and that's a disaster.
By the second 24-hour news cycle after the pick, the Ryan pick has already begun to spin disastrously out of control. Rather than using the precious opportunity of the vice presidential spotlight to disseminate some sort of clever message about the economy to voters, Romney wasted it, using it to actually distance himself from the policies of his nominee, a shocking development just 48-hours into their joint campaign - or at any time during a presidential campaign.
The headlines? "Romney seeks distance from Ryan's budget plans." Ryan, it appears, has already been thrown under the campaign bus by Romney. And Romney has already forfeited the opportunity to embrace Ryan as part of a reformist campaign before voters even had a chance to figure out who Ryan is and what he stands for.
Translation: Romney won't be defending Ryan's reform plans - just his own.
Now Romney faces the gargantuan task of regaining control of the debate from the media and Obama and refocusing it from their lies on the intricacies of Ryan's plans back on to the one topic that will win him the race --the economy.
If the media and the Democrats can keep the focus on Ryan for 10 or even eight more weeks, which isn't too difficult of a task given what they were able to do with Sarah Palin, they'll win because Romney won't have time to get his message out.
And the shame of it all, if it plays out that way, will be that Romney will have squandered Ryan, the best thing he has had going for him.
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