Paul Ryan as VP: The Explainer, or Top 'Mediscare' Target?

Posted: Aug 09, 2012 9:12 AM

There's significant "Veepstakes" buzz building around Paul Ryan, reports National Review's Robert Costa:

These days, you hear it everywhere — from Republican donors and veteran operatives, and at Capitol Hill watering holes. A few weeks ago, it was a wishful rumor floating in the Beltway ether. Now, sources close to the Romney campaign say it’s for real, that the taciturn former Massachusetts governor is quietly warming to the idea. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the budget king of the GOP, may be Mitt Romney’s veep ... Behind the scenes, Ryan’s stock has been steadily rising. Romney, a former Bain Capital consultant who relishes data and metrics, has clicked with the youthful Badger State wonk. They have campaigned together and speak frequently on the phone, comparing notes on policy and strategy. And earlier this year, with Ryan’s blessing, Romney hired three of Ryan’s Budget Committee advisers to help him in Boston.

This will come as heartening news to Ryan's conservative admirers, who are legion.  Ryan has established himself as the party's top wonk, putting an earnest, deeply informed and fresh face on conservative budget proposals.  Democrats have demagogued Ryan's last two budgets with a dishonesty that's notable for its intensity and ruthlessness.  For this reason, some GOP insiders are wary about putting the 42-year-old Congressman on the ticket with Romney.  They privately worry that his inclusion would allow Democrats to make the entire race about "Mediscare," putting Romney on the defensive, and shifting the focus away from Obama's dreadul economic record.  From Politico:

Pragmatic-minded Republican strategists and elected officials, believe that to select Ryan is to hand President Barack Obama’s campaign a twin-edged blade, letting the incumbent slash Romney on the Wisconsin congressman’s Medicare proposal and carve in the challenger a scarlet “C” for the unpopular Congress.

I understand these concerns, but I'm not persuaded by them.  If we're going to have a debate about the future of the country, let's really have one.  There is no one in Washington who is more fluent on fiscal issues than Chairman Ryan.  He is energetic, unthreatening and exudes straight-forward truthfulness.  And wouldn't the "scarlet C" also apply to Sen. Rob Portman, rumored to be near the top of Romney's list?  He's a member of this unpopular Congress, too, plus he wears a "scarlet B-for-Bush" that Democrats would surely try to exploit.  In either case, I think that fear is overblown.  Hell, Joe Biden was a Senator-for-life before he tagged along for Obama's 2008 romp.  Which brings us to the Ryan budget and Mediscare.  For a thorough breakdown of what the House-passed fiscal blueprint entails, read my post from March.  In brief, it simplifies the tax code and broadens the base, repeals Obamacare, and adopts a bipartisan "Wyden-Ryan" Medicare reform to save the popular program from insolvency.  Democrats feel confident that they can scare old people into turning against a Romney-Ryan ticket (which they will try to do anyway, but it would be much more pronounced if Ryan is Romney's running mate).  They'll claim that the Republicans are planning to take away Medicare benefits, undoubtedly using colorful imagery to drive the terror home.  It won't be true; the bipartisan Wyden-Ryan plan does not effect anyone who is above the age of 55 at all.  There's also the pesky mathematical reality that Medicare will be insolvent roughly within the decade if major changes for future seniors aren't implemented.  In spite of those facts, the Left is salivating at the opportunity to bombard the GOP ticket if Ryan is aboard.  Would they succeed?  They'd certainly try, but strong conservative messaging -- at which Ryan is a savant -- could very well turn the tide in the other direction.  Consider two pieces of evidence:  The first comes via Avik Roy, who points to the experience of now-Congressman Mark Amodei.  Amodei easily won a special election in Nevada last year, overcoming his Democrat opponent's relentless Mediscare attack campaign.  How did he do it?  He told the truth and turned the tables on the party that just cut $500 Billion out of Medicare to help fund a giant and unpopular new entitlement program:


This is how it's done.  Blast Obamacare and IPAB (Democrats' extremely powerful and unaccountable rationing board), then redouble your commitment to saving the program -- which is on track to implode very soon.  The second data point is a new poll of battleground Congressional districts, measured by a Democratic polling firm:

This result is established after reading a Republican-friendly explanation of Ryan's budget, although it doesn't make the 55+ point explicit.  Democrats would offer a much harsher and distorted picture, of course.  (Curiously, this pollster couldn't survey the public on the Senate Democrats' budget alternative, which hasn't existed for three years running).  The point is that given a fair, if incomplete, description of the House-passed proposal, voters back it by a comfortable margin.  Messaging matters, and Ryan is the best in the business at describing the looming debt and financial crises in digestable and serious terms.  I'm not endorsing Ryan for Veep, but I am saying that some of the worried nellies within the GOP are fretting unnecessarily. 

UPDATE - Rich Lowry beat me to this column, it appears.  Read the whole thing:

The Democrats’ assault over Medicare will be ferocious — not to mention lowdown and dishonest. Hell, they’ve already all but accused Romney of killing someone, and they haven’t even gotten around to Medicare. When the barrage starts, Romney won’t be able to duck and cover or look at his shoes. He’ll have to win the argument — or at least hold his own. This is the broader point. Romney has to carry the argument to President Barack Obama. The state of the economy alone isn’t enough to convince people that Romney has better ideas to create jobs. Neither is his résumé. Romney needs to make the case for his program, and perhaps no one is better suited to contribute to this effort than Ryan. Ryan is an ideologue in the best sense of the term. He is motivated by ideas and knows what he believes and why. But he’s not blinkered. He is an explainer and a persuader...

On top of Medicare, worried Republicans fear Romney becoming too identified with House Republicans. But anyone looking at Ryan for two minutes will realize he runs completely counter to the stereotype of the wild-eyed, bomb-throwing House Republican. He is invariably civil, sure-footed and good-natured. He never loses his cool, even under extreme provocation. If anything, he is over-earnest.