If you are interested in the presidential election of 2012, you have probably heard the news that Paul Ryan has been named as the vice-presidential candidate for Mitt Romney. If you read this blog, then you probably know that Paul Ryan was a slight surprise for the nomination, at least to me. I’ll discuss at length why this was a surprise and also what it means to the Romney campaign.
1. How does Ryan play into the general strategy of the Romney campaign?
In order to win this presidential election, Mitt Romney needs to be able to win most of the critical swing states. These include Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Iowa. These swing states become increasingly less important if Romney is able to turn states that are either leaning Obama or solidly Obama to come over to the Romney side. Ultimately the goal of the Romney campaign (and the Obama campaign, for that matter) is to get to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Presidential election. I have hinted that if Romney chose someone such as Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty, or even Rob Portman, we might expect Romney to launch a Northern strategy in order to get the necessary votes. This Northern strategy is focusing on the swing states in the North such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio but also throwing Minnesota and Michigan into the mix, as well. Some analysts believe that because of their demographic similarities, Wisconsin and Minnesota will vote the same way in the upcoming election. Currently, President Obama has a commanding lead in Minnesota and a smaller one in Wisconsin. He has been leading Michigan but Michigan has slowly been losing support for Obama. Obama does have a lead in Ohio but it is a small and stubborn one. We would expect the Romney campaign to focus on these Northern states to try and get these voting for Romney instead. This would be a huge upset for Romney if he’s able to get Ohio and a two-state combination of Minnesota/Wisconsin/Michigan.
2. Is this realistic?
Nate Silver at the blog Five Thirty-Eight has calculated that typically a vice-president is good for about 2% increase in his/her home state. This depends on the favorability of the candidate in his/her home state, among other factors. Those polled in Wisconsin, 38% of people have a favorable opinion of Paul Ryan while 33% had an unfavorable opinion of him. Because of this, Nate Silver calculates that Ryan will only increase Romney’s margin in the polls by 0.7%. Before he was named as vice-president, Ryan was known by approximately 50% of people. Those people who had heard of him were almost entirely split on whether or not they liked him or not. Nate Silver calculated how conservative/liberal each vice-president nominee has been over the last number of years and found that Ryan is the most conservative choice for vice-president, that he could find. The information that Ryan is most known for is his “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal which polls poorly. So, what we have with Ryan as the vice-president nominee is the most conservative choice who is not seen as particularly favorable even in his home state.
- So, why choose Ryan?
When writing the vice-presidential power rankings, I tried to come up with a list of pros and cons for each of the potential nominees. I’ll try to synthesize the pros I saw for Ryan with what I think the Romney campaign is doing. Some analysts think that the Ryan nomination indicates that Romney and his campaign understand that he is behind and need a sort of game-changer to try to mix up the votes. While Mitt Romney is the Republican choice for President, there are some people involved in the Conservative movement who are not necessarily enthralled with him as their candidate. Most of these people are the ones who got heavily involved in the 2010 mid-term elections. We might consider them to be the Tea Party. Ryan, despite not being a true Tea Party member is someone who they can get behind. With his stances on capping government spending and drastically reducing entitlement spending, fiscal conservatives might be able to get behind Ryan. But how likely was it that members of the Tea Party would not vote for Mitt Romney, even if they disagree with him on some issues? I don’t think it would be very likely. There might be a few more people voting because they know there is someone that they support at the highest office.
Ryan’s strength is policy. While Romney has been running on ad hominem attacks and platitude values, he has been criticized by members of his own party and by Democrats as not having a coherent or serious policy. Ryan brings to the table, his own policy agenda, albeit a controversial one. The “Path to Prosperity” is a workable policy that Romney can get behind in his quest to be the first Mormon president. Instead of just attacking Obama’s strategy of higher government revenues and reduced spending, Romney can bring out Ryan’s policy. He can confidently say that they have a plan to get us out of the federal deficit problem that we have (although he may have to change some of it, as it is really unpopular). This would challenge Obama to come up with a better plan. Without a plan to contrast, Romney can continue to play up the bumbling leader angle. The selection of Ryan as a running mate allows Romney to frame this campaign around the issues of his choosing.
The Ryan pick also allows Romney to focus on austerity measures for the government. This allows the Romney campaign to portray the federal government as reckless entitlement spenders and they are the only ones with a solution to the problems facing America. Romney has already stated that he plans to edit the Ryan plan to make it less radical but the focus will remain the same.
Micah Cohen who writes for the blog Five Thirty-Eight, as well found that Ryan is not likely to tip the election to Romney in any state besides Wisconsin, if he even does that at all. Nate Silver tweeted that people are being too cute in their assumption that there are good states and bad states for Ryan. Factoring that into our analysis leads us to the conclusion that Ryan was chosen for his possibility of tipping Wisconsin to Romney and his qualifications on the policy front as discussed above.
- Why was the Ryan selection a surprise?
This was the first year of running the Vice-Presidential power rankings, hopefully it will not be the last, but Ryan was in our top 5 for the majority of the time we were doing it. He was not the favorite by this author. I assumed that Romney would name either Rubio or Portman. So, why did I have him so low on my rankings? In order my concerns are as follows (from least important to most important):
- Paul Ryan once voted for a bill that would prohibit discrimination for sexual orientation. While this was the only bill that be construed as something for gay rights, it is still surprising that he would have even one vote like that. There is nothing wrong with voting to prohibit sexual discrimination but the GOP’s stance on gay rights might tempt some Republicans to not vote for a ticket with Ryan on it. This is assuming that a) Republicans actually knew that about his voting record and b) they’re discouraged by that one vote as opposed to his countless other opposition votes to what one might consider gay rights.
- We were not sure on the comfortability with the Romney campaign. For instance, with Rob Portman, we knew that he had been an early supporter of Romney, even helping him with the Ohio primary. This seemed to indicate a level of comfort that Portman had to Romney. We did not have that with Ryan. Or at least I was unable to find that information. In addition to the comfortablility issue, Ryan is known not to just say no to something without offering up how he would fix it. These cases of him saying how he would fix certain things might lead him to disagree with Romney.
- Paul Ryan was mainly a yes vote for the George W. Bush neoconservative fiscal and economic policy that may have contributed to the fiscal mess that Ryan is trying to remedy. While Ryan did vote for such measures as the Bush tax cuts, TARP, among others, he is most well known, now, as the author of the “Path to Prosperity” which many fiscal conservatives respect, even if it is a bit radical.
- His experience may be a factor. Ryan is essentially a career politician. He has served seven terms as Congressman from Wisconsin and before that he worked for a think tank and worked for Sam Brownback. Ryan has very little private sector experience, working as a marketing consultant for his family business, which many publications have called resume padding. While Ryan has been a Congressman for seven terms, he has never run outside of his own district in a statewide election. This may have shielded him from some spotlight and it has made it difficult to ascertain how Ryan would play to the state itself. While he has served on Congressional Committees for foreign policy, he does not have the experience someone like Portman brings to the table. This works against Romney in a couple of ways. Romney has been touting his private sector experience thus far in his campaign. With Ryan as the running mate, it might get a little harder to hammer Obama on his lack of private sector experience. With Ryan not running in a statewide election, it’s unclear how he might affect Wisconsin (and possibly other swing states). Romney’s biggest weakness, arguably, has been his lack of foreign policy. Ryan does not necessarily bring the experience one might want in a presidential ticket on foreign policy experience.
- The “Path to Prosperity” is the biggest reason why I did not think Ryan would be selected to be the vice-president nominee for Romney. The “Path to Prosperity” polls poorly among Americans, especially among Independents and Moderates. Not only that, but Democrats have already been unfairly attacking the plan as destroying Medicare. Adding Ryan to the ticket implies that you agree with his plan even if the plan is going to change. Additionally, Romney has made statements about not cutting the defense budget at all; these statements coupled with Ryan’s plan to cut entitlement spending has people worried about what we’re actually going to cut to make sure that we’re under the budget guidelines set forth.
Next post: What we learned from the Ryan selection