“With Mitt Romney on a steady march to the Republican presidential nomination after a sweep of three primaries, both he and President Obama are seizing on the Republican House budget, and its ambitious young architect, Representative Paul D. Ryan, as a defining issue of the unfolding campaign

“For Mr. Obama, painting the conservative lawmaker as a sort of wild-eyed wingman to Mr. Romney carries clear benefits, according to his advisers: it yokes Mr. Romney to the unpopular elements of the Ryan budget — from deep cuts in cherished social programs to a Medicare overhaul that could drive up costs for future retirees and fundamentally change the popular health plan — and it makes it tougher for Mr. Romney to tack to the center once he gets past the primaries…

“‘Obama is trying to set this up to demonize the House Budget chairman,’ said Kevin Madden, an adviser to the Romney campaign. ‘Governor Romney is going to talk about his vision for the country and his ideas for entitlement reform and tackling spending and reducing deficits. He welcomes efforts by people like Paul Ryan to address it, because Obama hasn’t.'”

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“If Romney’s win in Wisconsin strengthened his claim to the Republican presidential nomination, then his five straight days of campaigning with Ryan amounted to a tryout for the youthful congressman as a potential vice presidential running mate.

“Since Ryan endorsed Romney last Friday, he was at the candidate’s side at every turn — introducing him before formal speeches, vouching for him at town hall meetings and joining him as they eyed cherry pie, picked up fried cheese curds and handed out sub sandwiches. (Romney gave away turkey; Ryan, ham and cheese.)

“Along the way, Romney’s aides were sizing Ryan up. And although chief strategist Stuart Stevens waved off any talk of the two forming a national ticket as irresponsibly premature, he did say they got along well behind the scenes and noted their ‘chemistry’ on the stump.”

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“Christian Ferry, a senior adviser to the previous Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, called Mr. Ryan ‘an intriguing possibility’ because he ‘is actually making substantive policy suggestions for urgent problems the country faces rather than worrying about the day-to-day politics.’…

“Ryan allies say Mr. Romney would be wise to pick the man who wrote his party’s main budget blueprint. ‘Why wouldn’t Romney put the guy with the most expertise on the ticket with him?’ said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), who worked with Mr. Ryan on early versions of his budget and prodded him to run for president…

“Compatibility will be a crucial ingredient in Mr. Romney’s selection, according to people close to his campaign. Mr. Romney also trusts the 42-year-old congressman to field policy questions on his behalf—a rarity for the former governor who prides himself on his command of policy details. When Mr. Romney received a question on the convoluted tax code at a Wisconsin town hall, he turned to Mr. Ryan.”

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“Let’s say the economy continues to recover. Let’s say Romney continues to trail Obama in the polls. Let’s say he realizes that he needs to change the underlying dynamics of the election if he’s to have a chance. In that case, conservatives may just get what they seem to really want: A risky campaign that tries to take on ‘the big issues,’ perhaps by bringing Paul Ryan onto the ticket and arguing that the only way to avert a debt crisis is root-and-branch reform of the federal government.

“Those campaigns don’t have a great track record. But they are, at the least, interesting, and if Romney chooses to run one alongside Ryan, conservatives will finally get their chance to persuade the country to radically reduce the size and responsibilities of the federal government. And, perhaps a bit paradoxically, the only candidate who can really give them that chance is a candidate like Romney in a year like this one: A candidate who could count on their allegiance wouldn’t need to pander to the base by swinging so far to the right, and a candidate who was clearly going to win would play it safer.”

***

“What was unveiled with Obama’s powerful speech is nothing less than a replay of Bill Clinton’s reelection argument in 1996. Back then, a colorless GOP leader named Bob Dole was successfully lashed to revolutionary Newt Gingrich’s budget, which Democrats argued would ravage Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. Dole was morphed into Gingrich at least 125,000 times in negative ads (according to Gingrich’s later tally for me), killing Dole with independents and sullying Gingrich’s brand forever…

“Can Romney extricate himself from being tied to Ryan as Dole was to Gingrich? This kind of Houdini-style escape may be beyond even the skills of as brazen a flip-flopper as Romney, though it will be fun to watch him try.

“After all, if the man who was for the health-care mandate before he was against it turns out also to have been for the Ryan budget before he was against that, he’ll alienate his base in an attempt to woo the middle. Meanwhile, Romney’s support for Ryan will run in endless loops in the president’s and his super PAC’s ads, along with a devastating catalog of all of Romney’s other switcheroos over the years.”

***

“President Obama is an intelligent, judicious man who can see all sides of an issue. But every once in a while he tries to get politically cute, and he puts on his Keith Olbermann mask…

“That’s pretty much what happened this week in Obama’s speech before a group of newspaper editors. Obama’s target in this speech was Representative Paul Ryan’s budget…

“Obama treated it as some sort of alien monster from the lunatic fringe. He made a series of specific accusations that have been easily swatted away by the Ryan defenders: That the Ryan plan would allow the insurance companies to cherry-pick the healthiest seniors (in fact, there are specific passages in the plan forbidding that); the Ryan plan would mean lower benefits for seniors (in fact, the plan would guarantee seniors the equivalent of current benefits while giving them other options).

“As I say, I have my own problems with Ryan’s plan, which Obama identified. But Ryan has at least taken a big step toward an eventual fiscal solution. He’s proposed necessary structural entitlement reforms, which the Democrats are unwilling to do. He’s proposed real tax reform, which the Democrats are also unwilling to do.”

***

“President Obama doubled down on tying Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget at a fundraiser Thursday.

“‘The budget was marvelous, he said,’ Obama said about Romney. ‘When you go through this budget, the vision is an American where everyone is fending for themselves, a few are doing well at the top and most people are struggling to get by.'”

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Via the Examiner.