In every political campaign, there’s a fundamental choice to be made — do you try to win by inspiring and mobilizing your own ideological base or do you try to win by appealing to the swing voters in the middle? By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney made clear his intent to focus on the conservative Republican base and abandon mainstream voters.
Mitt Romney was already facing an uphill battle on both paths. Tea Party extremists were openly disdainful of Romney in the Republican primary and, since then, the response of the party faithful to the inevitability of Romney’s candidacy has been begrudging at best. Meanwhile, though President Obama has made strong progress digging our nation out of its economic hole, there’s no question the President is vulnerable as the election nears. And yet polls show the race is either neck-and-neck or that the president leading. And while the president remains fairly popular, Romney has struggled to achieve personal appeal with undecided voters. In other words, Romney couldn’t quite get it together on his own to appeal to the GOP base or swing voters. He needed help. And he chose Paul Ryan and, thus, a clear path forward.
Paul Ryan is clearly intended to appeal to the conservative Republican base. As the activist Ilyse Hogue put it, Ryan is most likely to be “voted prom king at Tea Party High.” Conservative leaders still chafing about Romney are practically giddy about Ryan. Glenn Beck called his selection “tremendous news.” Rush Limbaugh said, “We now have somebody on the ticket who’s us,” alluding to Ryan’s right wing authenticity.
And yet, with this choice, Mitt Romney has fully wrapped his campaign’s arms around Paul Ryan’s budget, which Romney previously praised and called on the Senate to adopt. And while the conservative base may be thrilled at the prospect of gutting government to fund more tax breaks for billionaires and oil companies, ordinary Americans are not.
Here are the facts about Paul Ryan and the Romney-Ryan budget:
• The Romney-Ryan budget would turn Medicare into a private voucher system, which the Congressional Budget Office says would increase the cost to seniors by at least $5,900 by 2050.
• Ryan has long sought to privatize Social Security, handing the money over to the same Wall Street firms that crashed our economy in the first place. Incidentally, even George W. Bush thought Ryan’s plan was too radical…
• The Romney-Ryan plan would actually kill over 4 million jobs in the next two years, including vital roles like police officers, firefighters and teachers who help our communities and whose spending helps private industry.
• The Romney-Ryan plan would also gut Pell Grants for students, food stamps for hungry families and Medicaid — in fact, 62% of the cuts in Ryan’s budget come from programs that mostly help poor families in America.
• And the Romney-Ryan plan would raise taxes on 95% of Americans but give extra tax breaks to the already-rich.
• Oh yeah, and the Romney-Ryan actually INCREASES the deficit .
Over two-thirds of Americans think the current tax system benefits the rich and is unfair to ordinary workers and 60% favor the so-called “Buffett Rule” to make the wealthy pay the same actual tax rate as middle class families. Fully 76% of Americans think government has a responsibility to provide health coverage for the elderly and most think Medicare is worth its current costs. In fact, by large majorities, Americans oppose the privatization of Medicare — and 45% of voters would cut defense spending before Medicare. And while Americans in general are uncomfortable with privatizing Social Security, seniors oppose the measure by large margins.
In other words, while Romney’s pick may inspire Tea Party fanatics to get off my Twitter feed and into the voting booth, embracing Paul Ryan and making his “right-wing social engineering” central themes of this election will only hurt Republicans with key swing voting blocs — including seniors, college students and working-class families. The Romney camp is clearly gambling that, by picking Ryan, they will turn out more voters from their base than they will turn off from the mainstream. That’s a big gamble. Maybe Romney should put real money on that bet and then, if it pays off, prevent some of the intensely painful cuts to the poor and middle class that Paul Ryan has championed.
Sally Kohn joined the Fox News Channel in 2012 as a contributor.