Political views and personal opinion on Paul Ryan has been flying since last Saturday when he was officially selected. Republicans appreciate he is an intelligent, charismatic and articulate conservative voice for reform with pockets of support in the Tea Party. Democrats are gleeful because they believe they can use his budget that reforms Medicare to destroy Romney’s ticket and win down ballot races in older states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Democrats base their argument on firm and shaky ground. Their firm ground rests in the fact they ran a successful race in a special election in NY-26. Democrats won the race in the old district on attacks against Ryan’s budget. Their shaky ground rests on numerous polls that show voters oppose the GOP’s plans for reforming Medicare.
Ryan and Republicans argue that his reforms would not affect anybody over 55. In short, his reforms would have far more consequence for any voters under 55. Romney came out earlier in the year in favor of Ryan’s plans but since then has vowed he has his own mind and has different views on some aspects of Ryan’s reforms.
Still, Democrats remain bullish they can crush the GOP ticket on Medicare. This remains to be seen and there are many reasons to be skeptical. I list some below.
1). Republicans and Romney seem to finally have locked in on the President’s vulnerability on the issue of Medicare. Romney has hit heavily on the campaign trail in the last week on Obama’s Healthcare Reform law cutting $700 billion from Medicare in 10 years. The Obama campaign’s so far ineffective argument is based on a technicality that the cuts only come from projected growth in Medicare spending. Well, sorry to tell you, but increased spending results from more people needing expensive care or just entering the program and they will be hit by the cuts.
2). Ryan and Romney have since last week also heavily emphasized that the plan does not affect anybody over 55. This is possibly where the election could be won or lost depending on whether they win this argument. Seniors are a significant voting bloc in Ohio, Florida, Michigan and others. If the Romney campaign lost ground among seniors it would seem to be hard to see them winning the election.
Yet this argument, largely pedaled by Democrats and worried Republicans rests on two big assumptions. First, that all seniors act like each other in terms of their voting habits, regardless of income, geography, culture. This is shortsighted to say the least. Seniors in Florida are far more likely to be conservative than seniors in NY state. Second, that Romney will do badly among other voting groups. Historically this view is on rocky footing.
In 2004 George Bush only won seniors 51%-48% (virtually identical to his nationwide winning margin). But to make up for this Bush had to do better among other voting groups as a result. In 2008 John McCain improved on that margin winning 54% of seniors. Most analysts and pundits assume Romney must equal this number or better to win. Yet 2004 showed the GOP can easily do well enough among other age groups to make up the difference. Just consider this poll. Zogby did a roaming poll of 1000 voters age 18-29 and found Obama leading among them 55%-42%. Obama won them in 2008 with 66% of the vote to 32% for McCain. If true Romney is performing better among his least supportive age group. This shows Romney can easily not do as well as McCain among seniors and still win the election.
3). Lastly, it has long been taken as a given by both parties that one should never touch the third rail of politics (entitlements). In 2003 George Bush was rebuffed in his attempts to reform Social Security and thus turned to expanding Medicare with a market option, Medicare Part D. After he was reelected Bush returned to trying to reform Social Security and once again was firmly rejected (by his own party).
Democrats seem to have taken this and other examples (such as special election results) as a sign that talk of reforming entitlements, specifically by addressing the core problems in them (growth in spending and service issues) is politically toxic to reformers. Demagoguery has worked in the past and will work again.
Yet the nation is at a point in its history it never has been before. Record numbers of people unemployed, an all time low in the number of people working, a stagnant economy, median income fallen to 1992 levels, and a record deficit growing every second of every minute of every day. Perhaps voters are finally ready for a serious discussion on what ails this country. At least Ryan and his GOP counterparts have put forward a plan. And they even cultivated support among Democratic ranks. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden signed onto a modified version of Ryan’s reform plans for Medicare. Meanwhile the president and his allies certainly have not.
There are of course other reasons why Ryan will not hurt the GOP ticket. There are certainly valid arguments on the other side he will. But since Ryan joined the ticket Saturday the polls have barely moved. On Saturday Romney was +3 in Rasmussen Reports tracking poll and today he is at +4. On Saturday Romney was -1 in Gallup’s tracking poll and now he is +2. This likely indicates nothing more than statistical noise. State polls continue to show the race extremely close.
Time will tell whether Ryan hurts the Romney. Obviously Romney and his adviser believed he would not. Democratic glee/talking points aside the one positive aspect for both sides due to the selection of Ryan should be he represents a return to the issues. Debate Medicare, Social Security, spending and government but not who is a better man, Romney or Obama. Our elections should be about issues and perhaps Ryan can help this election return to the issues Americans care most about.