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Romney’s big mistake

Adam Newman | Monday, September 3, 2012

On Aug. 11, Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan, the controversial Wisconsin representative and author of the even more controversial “Path to Prosperity” budget, would be his running mate. The running mate decision is one of the most important that a candidate can make in a campaign, and unfortunately for Romney, his choice of Paul Ryan was one of the worst ones that he could have made.

A running mate has to complement the candidate in some way. It may help him or her receive more votes from a certain demographic group, energize the respective “base,” win a certain state or give the candidate credibility in a specific policy area. Regardless of why the running mate is chosen, the rule “do no harm” must be followed.

Romney’s reasoning for choosing Ryan is somewhat clear. Ryan is a favorite of both the Republican establishment and of the Tea Party, a feat that few others hold. Since Romney is still not trusted by either the establishment or the Tea Party, Ryan can give him much needed credibility. Moreover, Ryan, despite his age (42), is an extremely experienced campaigner, speaker and debater. Ryan’s district in Wisconsin is heavily industrialized and went for Obama in 2008, but Ryan was successfully able to explain the major cuts that he made in his budget to them. Romney is surely hoping Ryan can expand that explanation from his district to the national level.

However, Romney broke the “do no harm” rule. If Romney wants to win this election, he needs to run on the bad economy and explain to voters why he, as president, can get the economy moving again. An argument that is extremely tempting for him to make, but unwise, deals with the size and role of the government. This is not a good argument for two reasons: It detracts from his strong argument on the economy, and more people favor Obama’s vision for the role of government over Romney’s. Americans have begun to distrust the government more and more over the past few decades, but this should not be mistaken for them necessarily wanting a smaller one. Most people believe Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, along with other assistance programs and investments, are an engrained fabric in American life.

By choosing Ryan, Romney made this election about the size and role of government, whether or not he wants it to be. Ryan is unique among politicians because he has created his own detailed and ambitious plan for how he is going to reduce the size of government: massively cutting Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare spending, while simultaneously increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. The choice of Ryan as running mate now ties Romney to this budget that deals more with governing philosophy than the economy.

The Democrats want to talk about the bad economy as little as possible. This is why the choice of Ryan as running mate is seen by Democrats as a gift. They can argue that Romney is going to unfairly cut the safety net, cut taxes for the wealthy and point out many other unfavorable details of the Ryan budget. These charges will have to be responded to, and the focus will be taken off the economy. Perhaps even more significantly, Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate will energize the Democratic base in a way no other choice could have, because Ryan is more hated by the Democratic base than perhaps any other Republican on the national stage. This will certainly increase Democratic turnout in an election where many believe the Republicans have the advantage in voter enthusiasm.

Romney had a pool full of possible choices for his running mate. Currently, the Republicans have a much more robust “farm team” than the Democrats do, meaning they have more young political stars that could play a larger role on the national stage in coming years. Obvious choices were Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida. Both are less controversial than Ryan, and both come from important swing states, while Ryan’s Wisconsin will still probably go to Obama in the election.

Mitt Romney has made the argument that his background as a CEO and state governor has given him the decision-making skills to be President. But when it came to his running mate pick, Romney failed. Instead of picking someone who will be ready to lead and help him win the election, he chose a conservative ideologue who will make him more popular with his Republican base but will only help him lose the election.

Adam Newman is a senior political science major. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.