Union members demonstrated against Mitt Romney's vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, in Las Vegas. (Photo: BuzzFeed)
By Emily Theroux
On Twitter, Rupert Murdoch called Mitt Romney’s V.P. pick an “almost perfect choice,” and a Fox News fanboy dubbed him “the rock star of American politics.”
So why does Witless Mitt appear to have a classic case of buyer’s remorse?
Wayward Willard apparently made the most important decision of his entire presidential campaign in full panic mode. His press secretary, Andrea Saul, had just committed the cardinal sin: forgetting to lie about “Romneycare.” During a Fox News broadcast, Saul was asked about a pro-Obama super-PAC ad in which a laid-off steelworker said that, after his former plant was shut down by Romney’s Bain Capital and he lost his company-sponsored health insurance plan, his uninsured wife later took ill and died. Observing that, if the family had lived in Massachusetts, they would have been covered by Romney’s universal health care law (a forbidden subject in MittWorld), Saul effectively implied that “Obamacare” was a pretty good deal for America.
A Full Fringe Freakout ensued. Erick Erickson of Redstate.com sent out The Tweet of Doom: “OMG. This might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election. Wow.” Laura Ingraham informed her TRN radio audience that, although she “might be the skunk at the picnic,” she had to say it: “Romney’s losing.” Rush Limbaugh mercilessly castigated Saul on Clear Channel. And Ann Coulter imploded on Hannity, demanding Saul’s head on a platter by the following morning. (As of press time, Saul still had her job.)
Mitt had already grown desperate to change the subject from relentless questions about his unreleased tax returns. Seeking immediate surcease, the Much-Maligned Mittster discovered all possible means of egress were marked “No Exit.” Terrified of spending all eternity with two or more raving partisans in Sartre’s cramped version of hell, Mitt jumped at his first chance to get back in the wingnuts’ good graces. Harry Reid, he could deal with, but being on the outs with El Rushbo & Co. was no freaking Pee-Wee boxing match.
The Mittbot clicked into autocorrect. Salvaging his doomed campaign became paramount; careful deliberation gave way to frenetic forward motion. He had to do Something Big — and very distracting. Spurning the advice of seasoned pros with far better political instincts than his own, the one-term, faux-conservative governor flashed his only wild card, two weeks before the GOP convention was slated to begin in Tampa.
Whose budget plan — Ryan’s? Of course not — Romney’s!
The presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, Mitt announced, was Paul Ryan, 42, the wonkish seven-term Wisconsin congressman of “Young Guns” renown (along with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy). Ryan, an extreme social and fiscal conservative who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, has championed the obliteration of women’s reproductive rights and gay civil rights. He favors uncompromising, hard-right fiscal policy, devotes countless hours to manic P90X fitness workouts, and secretly worships at the bizarre altar of the fanatical ideologue Ayn Rand.
A post on Erickson’s blog gave Mitt props for picking Ryan — and also let him wriggle off the hook for Saul’s unforced error: “Contrary to some people’s opinions, Romney has run a stellar campaign. He can’t help it if Eric Fehrnstrom and Andrea Saul have had some brain-dead moments …well, maybe he could. There is no such thing as the perfect campaign.”
But almost immediately, mainstream reporters began clamoring to sort out how Ryan’s signal political achievement — his 2010 “Road Map for America’s Future,” a radical budget plan that would convert Medicare into a voucher system — would affect the campaign. That led to edgy, defensive bravado on Mitt’s part (Paul who? Who said anything about Ryan’s plan? Hey, I’m the candidate here. My plan’s not exactly chopped liver, ya know. )
Then why appoint Paul Ryan V.P.? they queried. This perfectly reasonable question visibly stunned Romney. His heretofore choreographed campaign began unraveling. His own budget plan remained vague and sketchy like the rest of his policies, but the Ryan plan was something the press — and unfortunately, the public — could sink their teeth into.
Mitt the Whiner
Once again, the Romney campaign backed away from focusing on the economy (his only imaginable path to victory) and started flailing away at Democrats on the stump with an ever-shifting drumbeat of lies and innuendos: Obama wants to keep soldiers from voting. Obama’s going to take the ‘work’ out of welfare reform. Biden is a racist. (Why? He said an unregulated Wall Street would put us “in chains.” Chains = slavery, no matter the context. He used the word “y’all,” so he must have been talking about race. Or something.) Resign, Biden! (Sez Sarah Palin.) Obama’s campaign is based on division and anger and hatred. (Dog-whistle translation: Obama is a scary, angry black man. Be afraid. Be very afraid.) Obama is being mean to me. Obama and Axelrod, go back to Chicago so ‘us decent Americans’ can take our country back!
(Romney himself once said, “There’s no whining in politics.” It’s available on videotape for anyone to see. So why is this man still whining, when it makes him look like such an insufferable ass?)
When the #MittHitsTheFan, GOP insiders remember to duck
Several days after Romney’s announcement, it emerged that, after publicly praising his veep pick, some three dozen GOP strategists and operatives met individually with Politico reporters to express serious reservations about Ryan’s potential effect on Romney’s candidacy as well as Senate and House contests. “Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington,” Politico’s resulting scoop revealed. “Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.”
“(T)he most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election,” the Politico article, co-written by Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Martin, stated. Some even think the Ryan pick is “a disaster for the GOP” and might cost Republicans the Senate if voters latch onto “MediScare” again. “Very not helpful down ballot — very,” a top Republican consultant told Politico.
Why on earth would Mitt choose a candidate who’s going to tar down-ticket Republicans with the same “class warfare” brush — the “Medicare menace” that enabled a Democrat to win an upstate New York district that had voted Republican since before the Civil War? The risk-averse Romney should have refrained from prodding the dry tinder of districts whose GOP representatives are backing as far away from Ryan as possible, before a spark of doubt among an aging populace bursts into a conflagration.
Meanwhile, wrote a Daily Kos blogger, “The Florida papers are destroying Paul Ryan” — in a state that Romney desperately needed to win. ” So much so that a distraught and panicked Village (a term used by progressive bloggers to denote the mainstream media) believes ‘Mitt Romney is in big, big trouble’ for selecting the man who wants to pull the plug on Grandma.”
The only GOP strategist brave enough to speak to Politico for attribution, former Bush senior adviser Mark McKinnon, called Mitt’s decision “a very bold choice” that meant “Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party.” Then McKinnon added his single caveat: “And probably lose. Maybe big.”
Ryan’s list of negatives continues to mount:
- “Willard’s Choice” has doubled the number of rich white men atop the GOP ticket. (Mitt could have picked Pawlenty or Portman — two boring white men — but that would scarcely have budged the Etch a Sketch.)
- Because Ryan proposed eliminating the capital gains tax and Romney’s income is derived almost entirely from investments, Romney would pay virtually no taxes under Ryan’s plan. (Way to pick a winner, Mitt!)
- In the 14 years since Ryan left Wisconsin for Washington, only two of his many proposed bills have ever been passed. One renamed a post office; nobody remembers the other one.
- Romney’s ratings haven’t received the customary “bounce” from his veep announcement.
- #MittTheTwit didn’t rack up any points bad-mouthing Palestinians in Israel. Only six percent of American Jews answer “Israel” when asked what most influences their presidential vote, says Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast — who adds that Romney (the perennial outsider who never has a clue) probably lost the remaining Jewish vote by choosing Ryan. (The economy, health care, a positive view of government spending, and fear of the Christian right top the list. And get this, Mitt: “Almost 80 percent of American Jews think it’s fine for a woman to have an abortion for any reason.” Giving birth control to teens ranks right up there, too — and support for school prayer is a definite minus. Sorry, Willard — you’d be a lot more popular if you were still governor of Massachusetts!)
- According to the Gallup poll and reason.com, “a clear majority, 58 percent, of Americans” have never heard of Paul Ryan. Snooki, Kim Kardashian, or Donald Trump would have been more readily recognized by the typical American voter. (And maybe Chris Christie, if he keeps insulting people on a regular basis. He might even get his own reality show.)
Union demonstrators protest Ryan’s Vegas star turn
Out on the campaign trail, hecklers interrupted Ryan’s debut campaign appearance at the Iowa State Fair, where the veep candidate showed his snarky side while dodging reporters’ questions. “We’ll play ‘Stump the Running Mate’ later,” he snapped at an NPR reporter. “I’m just going to enjoy this fair right now.”
The following night, the man of the hour attended a GOP fundraiser at billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The event, however, attracted more than big bucks. Outside, several hundred union protesters filled the plaza, according to Alternet. Protestors carried signs reading “Romney/Ryan Road to Ruin,” “Paul Ryan Hustling for the 1%,” and “This is What Democracy Looks Like!”
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, had come to Vegas for his union’s annual convention, BuzzFeed reported. “Romney Hood, Ryan Hood, not in our neighborhood,” Gage chanted.
The GOP strategists may not see eye-to-eye with the 99 percenters, but they are definitely worried about the added angst of a Ryan candidacy. “Everybody loves Paul Ryan. Everybody supported the Ryan plan,” one party insider told Politico in D.C. “But nobody thinks Ryan should be the tip of the spear.”