"Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States," said Mitt Romney. Mitt muffed the announcement. But, no doubt, many conservatives were thinking, "from Mitt's lips to God's ears!" .
Romney's pick of the youthful Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate plays to the conservative base of the GOP, many of whom are frustrated and distrustful of their party's banner carrier. Ryan is the Republican intellectual leader on budget issues, and his selection inextricably links Romney to the Ryan budget, which calls for lower taxes and deep cuts in social programs.
In his announcement, Romney disingenuously attacked President Barack Obama for $700 billion in Medicare cuts. It was the old misleading "Medi-scare" tactic again, targeted at senior citizens. In 2009, Medicare spending was about $500 billion, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare spending will grow to a budget busting $930 billion in 2020.
President Obama has not cut Medicare, rather Obamacare calls for $500 billion in savings over the next decade through operational efficiencies and more effective care. But Ryan's plan also calls for about $500 billion in savings. The plan would control Medicare spending by converting some of it into subsidies for private insurance, thereby shifting more of the burden to individuals. Ryan's plan also calls for privatizing Social Security.
The selection of Ryan turns the election into a choice rather than a referendum on Obama's presidency. In Ryan's own words, "We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes." To liberals, this is code for cutting social programs. And President Obama’s campaign quickly responded saying Ryan’s selection is, “a commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy.”
Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He is in his seventh term in Congress, and he previously worked as a staffer on Capitol Hill before his election. He is a Washington insider who serves a largely rural Wisconsin district that sits between Milwaukee and Madison. Ryan supported the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War, and TARP, the 2008 government bank bailout that was unpopular with conservatives.
During the Republican presidential primary, then candidate Newt Gingrich said the Ryan budget plan was "social engineering", a charge he later retracted. The CBO said of the plan that it was possible seniors would face higher costs, and its enactment could result in, “reduced access to health care; diminished quality of care; increased efficiency of health care delivery; less investment in new, high-cost technologies; or some combination of those outcomes.”
Upon accepting the role as Romney's running mate, Ryan said, "We won't duck the tough issues, we will lead. We will not blame others we will take responsibility. We won't replace our founding principles, we will reapply them." Ryan is young, 42 years-old, energetic, ambitious and driven. He is severely conservative on social issues like abortion and gun control, and a Catholic.
Ryan's selection will only further highlight the differences between the opposing sides and charges up the party base. But his selection may cause problems among another key group of likely Republicans voters: seniors. Furthermore, it is unclear how his views will be received among independent voters, a group likely to decide the election's ultimate outcome.
This has been a rough month for Romney, filled with gaffs and missteps by his staff. Romney has been under siege to release more of his federal tax returns, including from leading Republicans. Questions of the legality of a $100 million trust fund he set up for his sons and of the wisdom of establishing off shore bank accounts have been a constant drumbeat. The Ryan announcement is sure to provide a brief respite from all the incoming attacks.
Romney corrected himself in Saturday's Ryan announcement, ""Every now and then I'm known to make a mistake. I did not make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this. He's going to be the next vice president of the United States." And later, Ryan was earnest, "It will take leadership and the courage to tell you the truth, Mitt Romney is this kind of leader, together we will unite this country and get this done."
Now the two sides are more clearly defined for voters. But will the vice presidential candidate matter? In the end, the election will rest on the state of the economy on election day, and on who voters believe they can trust. Mitt Romney still has a lot of work to do on the trust issue.