The Ryan Pick


With his selection of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, Mitt Romney has decided the 2012 presidential election. Barack Obama will be reelected president of the United States.

Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, brings Romney needed credibility with conservatives. Indeed, over the past few days establishment conservatives have been waging a pick-Ryan campaign in the media, and probably behind the scenes with Romney’s people as well. Ryan is a serious figure intellectually, and commands respect within establishment political circles. But he has spent over a decade in Congress, and as a result is viewed with some skepticism by Tea Party types. He will not excite the yahoo wing of the party as Sarah Palin did in 2008.

But just how much Ryan solidifies Romney’s support from the base is beside the point. Indeed, the Ryan pick shows just how out of touch Romney is with political realities. Conservatives were going to hold their noses and vote for Romney anyway, because they hate Obama. What Romney needed was a VP pick who would help him win over independents, particularly women. Ryan doesn’t do that. But the damage the Ryan pick does to Romney goes beyond this.

The problem is Ryan’s plan for Medicare. I’m not going to discuss the merits of the Ryan plan here; this is a piece about electoral politics. The Ryan plan will be pounded day in and day out by Democrats. By November Ryan and Romney will literally look like losers, irritable and worn from weeks and weeks of defending a plan that most people (and all oldsters) will perceive as the evisceration of a sacrosanct entitlement. Even people over 60 who belong to the Tea Party believe that their Medicare benefits must be preserved, no matter the cost.

Romney’s people may believe that Ryan will bring them Wisconsin, and winning that state becomes a bit more likely with Ryan on the ticket. But it’s still very much a reach for the Republicans. Scott Walker’s success in surviving the recall election earlier this year is not likely a harbinger of Republican prospects in November. Many Walker voters who were standing up against Wisconsin’s public employee unions (i.e., voting their pocketbooks), will not support cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

Had Romney been looking to pick off a battleground state, he should’ve picked Rob Portman of Ohio. Ohio is bigger than Wisconsin, and Republicans had a decent chance of carrying the state. Portman might have put them over the top there. The Ryan pick places Ohio more firmly in the Democratic column.

I originally thought that Romney would pick a woman or a Hispanic (Marco Rubio), because he lags badly with both groups. I did an analysis in June that gave President Obama 22 states and the District of Columbia with a total of 270 electoral votes, the minimum needed to win. With five months to go the election was clearly very much up for grabs. I thought then that Romney would pick Portman, as Ohio is a state Romney needs to win if he is to prevail. With the selection of Ryan, Romney has probably lost Ohio and Florida, which in June I had going to the Republicans. If Romney loses both Ohio and Florida, there is no way he gets to 270 electoral votes.

The idea that major structural reform of Medicare and Social Security will play politically, in a time of economic uncertainty and widespread voter despair, is utter nonsense. Yet that is what Romney apparently believes, based on his selection of Ryan. Romney truly is out of touch with reality. His dippiness was already apparent in his views on foreign policy. His economic policies — on tax reform, job creation, and yes, entitlement reform — were in fact far more sensible than anything put forward by the Democrats, and this constituted his main advantage over Obama. But by placing radical reform of Medicare and Social Security in the forefront of the political debate — that is, by picking Paul Ryan — Romney has cost himself the election. The only question now is how big Obama’s margin will be.

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Charles Barr

Here's a positive development courtesy of the Paul Ryan VP pick: Sales of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged are spiking.

On the morning of the announcement, Atlas Shrugged was number 353 on Amazon's ranking of best sellers in books. As of this morning (Aug. 15, 2012) it is number 92 and still climbing.

Even though he has backed off recently, Ryan's past enthusiasm for Rand has drawn quite a bit of media and public attention. As a result, her philosophy is likely to reach a much broader audience during the current election cycle and beyond. I think this will aid the cause of liberty in the long run.

Scott Jensen

There isn't a horse race going on. It has NEVER been a horse race. Romney will win a landslide. Period. Here's why.

First, it doesn't matter if Obama is more or less popular than Romney. This race isn't about Romney and certainly not about Ryan. It is about Obama. All re-election campaigns are a referendum on the incumbent. Even Ford's election was beyond doubt a referendum on Nixon.

Second, given the above, the only question is this: Is Obama above or below 50% in the polls? To be even more precise since the general election isn't a direct democratic process, the question really is: Is Obama above or below 50% in the states? If Obama is above 50% in a state, he wins that state's electoral college votes. If he is below 50%, he loses those votes. Only if he is exactly at 50% does voter turn-out really matter and then it is a coin toss. The reason for this is that the "undecided" break for the challenger. The "undecided" are not undecided about the challenger but the incumbent. Given this, if people in a state say they would vote 47% for Obama and 43% for Romney, it isn't ... as the press likes to report ... +3% Obama but +3% Romney. Oh, and Bush Junior was just over 50% in the general polls just before the election and thus he won.

Third, Obama has been burning money faster than he has been taking it in and he has barely moved the needle. Romney's big ad push hasn't even started and he has a pile of money to spend from here to the election.

Fourth, Romney never had any problems smacking down any of his Republican competitors in the primaries. When he went after them, he buried them. He learned from 2008 how to be a battle-hardened candidate and it is now paying off for him.

Fifth, Obama's key demographic groups are leaving him. Even blacks are likely not to vote in the same record numbers as they did in 2008. Obama got 95% of the black vote in 2008 and all current polls put him at best in the mid-80s right now. College students turned out in droves for Obama in 2008, all current polling shows they will return to their previous low turn-out this year. Women went for Obama in 2008 but now Romney is nearly on par with Obama with them. Latinos went majorly for Obama in 2008 and current polls say he's lost major support with them. Only gays will be the one demographic that will come out strong for Obama but since they, at best, equal 2% of the population, they really don't matter electorally. The one state where they do matter a bit is California and that was never considered a battleground state.

Sixth, the ONLY way to re-ignite the Tea Party is by talking about government spending. You seem to have completely forgotten about 2010. Obama surely has. But for Romney to get the Tea Party behind him, he has to talk about the debt and deficit. Bringing Ryan on board as his VP insures this will happen. You think entitlements are a third rail in politics. It isn't with the Tea Party. Ryan is the WORST candidate that Romney could pick as far as OBAMA is concerned. Obama wants to talk about anything but the debt, deficit, and the economy, but the ONLY way you can talk about entitlements is by talking about the debt, deficit, and the economy. What Romney has done is laid a trap for Obama. Obama thinks he will win by "defending" entitlements, but that won't be the case. What Obama will end up doing is defending Big Government and that, as shown in the 2010 election, is a losing argument.

Seventh, it is the economy, stupid! If the economy sucks, the incumbent President loses. If the economy is strong or at least appearing to be getting stronger, the incumbent President wins. The economy sucks and there's no hope in sight. Obama will lose and lose in a landslide.

Jon Harrison

Nov. 7, 2012: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!


The "independent voter" is a bit of a myth.

Study, after study, has shown that those who identify or register themselves as independent, always vote for the same party, election after election.

The true way "independents" affect elections is by not voting in elections they can't quite support the candidate of their preferred party.

Jon Harrison

Could you specify some of these studies you mention? I would like to have a look at them. I was an independent back when I still voted, and I cast votes for both Republicans and Democrats.


Ok. University of Missouri press of John Petrociks study of electoral behavoir. Bruce Keith's study from the early '90s. John Sides of GW University.

The subject has been studied, ad nauseum. Help yourself to the volumes of research.

Jon Harrison

I did find info about Keith's study ("The Myth of the Independent Voter") online. Apparently it says that about 10% of voters are "true independents." I never imagined that the percentage was higher than that. Ten per cent can make all the difference in a close election, and 2012 still looks like it will be close. So thanks for providing info that buttresses my argument.

Jim Walsh

I agree with much of what you write, so I'm loathe to post a comment when we disagree, but...
There's a flaw in your analysis of the Ryan pick. You're treating individual voters as mindless members of lazily-drawn categories. They aren't.
The phrase "all oldsters" is beneath you. Libertarians should hope that individual voters act as such, rather than as drones in some playbook of Morris or Axelrod. There are older people who understand that our current system of wealth redistribution isn't sustainable. And that, for the good of the republic and of citizens under 40, the federal spoils systems must be reformed. Substantially.
To the larger point of your piece, I'm more hopeful with regard to Rep. Ryan than I am about most Republicans. His record focuses more on the financial side of public policy than tinpot moralizing. In many ways, Ryan represents the best a libertarian can expect from the mainstream parties.
It's long been a criticism of libertarians (and Libertarians) that we are both too rigid ideologically and too cynical about the political process. To me, cynicism is the greater fault.
I expect that many older people--even though they're fat on the fruit of unsustainable government pension and benefits schemes--will think that Ryan is charming young man who's trying to do the right thing.
That thinking was enough to put Barack Obama in the White House. Maybe it'll be enough to put him out.

Jon Harrison

Jim, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I plead guilty to overstatement with the use of "all oldsters." But I'd only modify it to the extent of saying the great (or perhaps even vast) majority of oldsters.

I sort of agree that Ryan represents the best libertarians can expect from a mainstream politician, at least on fiscal issues. He's thoughtful and willing to admit openly that popular programs will become insolvent unless something fairly radical is done about them. On the other hand, he voted for Medicare Part D. He also voted for the Iraq war, and apparently was content to have the government borrow all the money needed to wage it. He supports an increased defense budget, and I believe he's pretty reactionary on social issues. He's hardly my ideal politician.

The Ryan pick does I think force both parties to discuss entitlements and come up with plans to keep programs like Medicare and Medicaid afloat. How realistic those plans will be remains to be seen. Already I seem to detect Romney backing away from Ryan's specifics. These issues are fairly arcane, and I think both sides will fudge things as much as the media allows them to. And the mainstream media (particularly television, where most viewers get their news) hates to get bogged down in detailed policy discussions -- it's bad for ratings, after all.

Yes, there are older people (and citizens generally) who recognize that government is too big and expensive and must be pared down considerably if we are to avoid a catastrophe. Do they, in 2012, constitute an election-winning majority? The answer is . . . NO.

Greg R

It amazes me how much like contract bridge the VP pick is. In bridge, you give your partner information by your bid. That's what Romney did here. If he'd picked Portman, it would have been considered safe and milquetoast. The fiscal conservatives would have continued to mistrust him. By picking Ryan he tells the conservatives and the tea party (which is half libertarian) that he is serious about fiscal reform and won't become a born-again Obama once elected.

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