OK, can we all calm down now?
Within the space of a few hours, Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan for Vice President has changed the entire tenor of the campaign, and revealed about both presidential candidates what really should have been obvious before:
Romney is a calm, serious, principled, methodical man, who does not make rash decisions, does not lash out, and who does precisely what he sets out to do. This is the same man who could come in and clean up the Olympics, who could take failing businesses and make every reasonable effort to save them (and, despite what the Obama campaign would have us believe, often did). Nor does Romney resort to reactionary and false accusations, strident claims, or ad hominem attacks.
When the Obama campaign launched its deceptive ads over the past couple of weeks, conservatives complained that Romney wasn’t hitting back hard enough, wasn’t taking control of the narrative. They warned that this campaign would be shades of McCain in 2008 all over again. Commentators like Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter were practically sputtering. Even the usually calm Charles Krauthammer intoned ominously about the advertisements’ impact. All this despite pointed, timely, and well-crafted advertisements by Romney’s campaign.
What a difference a day makes.
By virtue of Ryan’s presence on the ticket, the focus will be on the economy – which is precisely where Romney wants it. Ryan’s youthful vitality will not be able to be successfully attacked as lack of experience, as he has spent 14 years in Congress, and is easily the most recognized expert on budget and fiscal matters in the House. Romney will obtain (and indeed has already obtained) endorsements from other key Republicans, including many who were considered candidates for the vice-presidential spot.
Ryan is a devout Catholic. He is legitimately conservative, much to the relief of the Tea Party. Ryan has a reputation for being professional and approachable. He is by all accounts an extremely effective communicator, capable of messaging the importance of Medicare and health care reform to myriad constituencies that the Obama campaign was (is?) sure they had locked up, including working class Americans and seniors.
The selection of Paul Ryan demonstrates that Romney is every bit as tactical and efficient a campaigner as he is a businessman.
On the other hand, the attacks by Obama, touted just a couple of days ago as brilliant strategy, now look frantic and desperate.
Obama looks like he is flailing. And that’s because he is.
In order to see the whole picture, you need to pay attention to a series of threads in the news over the past year. Recently it was reported that Romney had outpaced Obama in fundraising three months running. But as far back as February and March, media outlets like the Huffington Post were already predicting that Obama had lost the support of business and Wall Street. (No doubt Obama’s “you didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke has not helped matters.) Obama’s evident support for Palestinians (and Muslim groups more generally) versus his tepid support for Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, has weakened his popularity among – and financial support from - American Jews. American Jews tend to vote Democrat, but as Anthony Weiner’s vacated Senate seat proves, even very liberal east coast Jews are willing to support a conservative candidate with a thoughtful and coherent message.
Obama’s contempt for religious institutions and his absurd push for religiously affiliated colleges, universities and hospitals to provide sterilization and contraception (including abortifacient contraception) have alienated the Catholic bishops and significant numbers of Catholics who also tend to vote Democrat. While Protestant evangelicals tend to vote Republican already, they see the attacks on religious freedom, and Obama is motivating these voters to turn out in greater numbers in support of their Catholic brethren than may otherwise have been the case.
This is all bad news, particularly for someone who only took 53% of the popular vote in 2008. A fired-up opposition that can peel off even modest percentages from otherwise “locked up and loyal” voter demographics bodes ill for an incumbent who is no longer the unknown “Hope and Change” candidate and who cannot run on his record.
None of this is mitigated by recent polls that purport to show Obama “up.” One need only look at the polling that preceded some of the most heated recent campaigns to see a pattern emerge:
Right up to the final days before Indiana’s Republican primary in the late spring, former U.S. Senator Dick Lugar and then-challenger Richard Mourdock were said to be in a “statistical dead heat.” Mourdock won by over 20%. The effort to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was trumpeted as “too close to call.” But Walker had won 50 minutes after the polls closed, and by a greater margin than in his initial election. In Texas, GOP “favorite” David Dewhurst was leading in the polls until shortly before the actual primary. Cruz won handily.
And each time, the media professed to be completely stunned.
For the past several weeks, we have watched as Mitt Romney has pulled even or even a few percentage points ahead of President Obama in poll after poll. I am guessing that in the real world (and not the rarified atmosphere of polls with disproportionate numbers of Democrat voters represented), this probably translates to an actual five- to ten-point lead for Romney.
And that was before the Ryan pick for VP.
As Governor Sarah Palin did for John McCain in 2008, Ryan will galvanize the base for Romney. Unlike Palin, however (who nevertheless trounced Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate, let us recall), Paul Ryan has 14 years’ experience with the national media. In addition to his budget expertise, he is no slouch on foreign policy. He is articulate and will not be painted into a corner by any of the talking heads, norbe able to be caricatured as an empty-headed nincompoop. Neither his personality nor his record lend themselves to fearmongering, credible threats of throwing granny over a cliff, or allegations of “hate,” as more Americans will see in the coming weeks.
I am not suggesting that Obama’s campaign brainiacs won’t try. (They’ve already started, aided and abetted by their shills at major media outlets). But it is going to be an uphill battle for them in a p.r. campaign in which they are already struggling.
Romney is as clean-cut as they come: he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink. He is a devoted family man, a successful businessman, and a successful Republican governor of an overwhelmingly Democrat state. Ryan is also, by all accounts, a man of honor, known for his loyalty, friendship, hard work, and dedication to his constituents who also tend to lean blue-collar Democrat. Obama has been staggeringly deceitful about his past – all the while demonizing those who legitimately questioned his own accounts of it, many of which have been proven to be fiction. And what we do know of Obama’s past – his affinity for Saul Alinsky, his affiliations with people like Tony Rezko and terrorist Bill Ayers, his deep devotion to demonstrably failed political and economic ideologies - hardly offers him the vantage point to criticize the character, much less “transparency” of his opponents. More to the point, the past four years have shown that the ideologies Obama embraces will produce failure here, just as they have wherever else they have been tried.
Americans are not stupid. This one is a game-changer. Not just because Ryan’s addition to the ticket changes the way people view Romney. But because it will change the way people view Obama.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.