opinion by Scott Shackelford
Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
Editor's note: Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may or may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Few among us will ever receive the introduction “next president of the United States” while strolling down the gangplank of the USS Wisconsin as the “Air Force One” soundtrack thumps away and thousands of strangers hoot, applaud and snap pictures.
Maybe you were a little, but I wasn’t one bit jealous of Mitt Romney while watching this recent Saturday morning scene play out, and not as campaign workers quickly hit the replay button to introduce U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., as a running mate capable of helping put Romney in the Oval Office.
Conservatives are right to hope. The reality is a Romney-Ryan ticket is still likely to lose this year’s presidential election. And to an incumbent who, on paper at least, is beatable.
At present the U.S. economy, while growing once again and moving in the right direction, seems incapable of bringing hope to millions of long-term unemployed who desperately need help. Health care reorganization in the form of the Affordable Care Act is a great bargain, only most Americans don’t believe in it, at least not yet.
Republicans seem sure they will mightily outspend the White House this election season, which ought to be seen as another key advantage in a race where, once again, a couple million undecided voters in a handful of key swing states will decide everything.
Despite all his advantages – impressive resume, handsome family, toothy smile – the reality is that Mitt Romney, a candidate many Americans are still not sure they trust enough to run the country, is selling a remarkably conservative message that has him winning big across much of the country and yet still trailing the incumbent by more than a couple points in several key battleground states.
And his selection of Paul Ryan doubles down on that message: The Ryan budget plan would certainly go a long ways toward getting federal spending in line.
Unfortunately, the seven-term congressman’s proposals would also be a disaster for millions of Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their very survival. The Ryan plan would obliterate the Great Society programs Lyndon Johnson and forward-thinking congressional leadership of a much different era bequeathed us.
Democrats are sure to pound away at this message from here to Election Day, and with effective results being likely. Obviously Americans want to see Washington reign in its deficit-spending ways, but not at the cost of turning a cold shoulder to so many poor and elderly – particularly when a few choice tax hikes for the wealthiest citizens here and several choice budget cuts there (including defense) could go a long way at scaling back any need for Ryan’s budgetary hatchet job.
Romney’s selection is admittedly compelling. Ryan speaks with the sincerity and vigor his youth suggests, and a confidence in tone and message that must marvel even Romney’s fiercest supporters. Unlike Romney’s flip-flopping past, you don’t doubt Ryan’s conservatism, which should turn out still more voters with highly agreeable attitudes to the polls.
But even at the outset there are two problems with Romney’s thinking. First, independents are not likely to be inspired with the scope and depth of Paul Ryan’s budgetary knife. Second, I’m not sure Ryan’s inclusion on the ticket is very likely to flip any key swing states to Romney – and that’s including the likes of Wisconsin.
Yep, it’s sweet to be Barack Obama these days.
Most U.S. presidents couldn’t survive in a congressional climate so opposed to fraternity and compromise, which itself suggests that Washington intransigence will continue into 2013 and beyond – unless voters also make big changes about who runs Congress, which thanks to gobs of cash and redistricting seems unlikely.
The implication is a major negative for Romney. One of the big selling points of his campaign has been the notion that he would be a better manager of the federal government than President Obama. But if winning real reform should prove as difficult for Romney as it has for Obama (and, should Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate, there is no reason to think it wouldn’t) independents may elect to stick things out with a leader they have already come to know – a chief executive who, even Romney admits, was dealt a terrible hand entering office.
Sure, the electorate may be wary of another four years of President Obama at the helm. After all, times have been tough for a lot of us. And yet polls shows that voters may trust Romney even less. Like Bill Clinton before him, most Americans seem to like Obama the person a great deal even while remaining split over the policies he supports.
The point is this: Unless Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s likability numbers start heading in opposite directions, this ultra-establishment conservative is going to lose. Of course, it would be a defeat at the hands of one of the great campaigners/communicators in presidential history. No shame in that, as the first President Bush could testify.
Incredibly, Romney could still waltz his way into the White House. From wealthy donors capable of boosting his campaign’s fundraising efforts well past the $1 billion mark to filling his future cabinet with credible political quantities in the weeks leading up to the election, from acing the presidential debates to finally releasing more of his much-discussed tax returns – Romney can still do plenty to shape the outcome of this campaign.
But, in Paul Ryan, Candidate Romney has made his bed. Either this choice will shore up the conservative base, inspire independents, and even leave a few lukewarm Democrats confident enough to take a chance, or it will be seen as a deep-down-in-the-gut choice that badly misfired.
It’s a decision sure to make Ryan a political superstar, and could soon finish (or truly begin) Romney’s political career.