I missed this piece from longtime Democratic political strategist Bob Shrum, now writing at The Daily Beast, about Mitt Romney’s choice for running mate. Shrum seems oddly enthused about the selection — but only because he is sure that Barack Obama and his campaign team can dismantle “the vice-presidential candidate from the Koch brothers.” Shrum lays out the attack strategy that hardly is a secret anyway:
Obviously, the Obama ads will target seniors. They were the bedrock of the GOP’s midterm landslide; 59 percent of them voted Republican in 2010. That’s already changing. In an AARP survey of retirees in Florida, Romney and Obama are running neck and neck within the margin of error. And the fact that Romney just changed his first name to Ryan will push more of them toward the president—there and in other states, such as Pennsylvania and Iowa, with high proportions of elderly residents.
But Ryan provides a target-rich environment that reaches far beyond seniors. He eases none of Romney’s potentially fatal deficit among both women and Hispanics; he exacerbates it. Expect ads telling women that Ryan coauthored a “personhood” bill that would outlaw common forms of birth control—and that he’s voted to defund family planning and Planned Parenthood. With Hispanics, where Romney’s already 44 points behind, a running mate like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez might have narrowed the gap. Instead, the nominee-to-be settled on someone who voted for John McCain’s “danged” border fence—and against the DREAM Act. And Ryan has reportedly trafficked in incendiary, anti-immigrant epithets like “anchor babies.” Ryan-Romney will be a ticket to nowhere on Hispanic television.
It probably doesn’t matter that both men cater to intolerance toward the LGBT community. That’s now as standard for most of the GOP as the defense of segregation was for most Southern Democrats half a century ago. Gay Americans are overwhelmingly for Obama; the few who support Romney apparently care more about their marginal tax rates than about being exiled to the margins of society. But among three groups where Romney has to hold on or make major gains—the elderly, women, and Hispanics—Ryan is a trifecta of voter alienation.
The Romneyians surely envisioned the shape and impact of the Obama response to the Ryan pick. They waited too long, and pressure on the right mounted to go with the vice-presidential candidate from the Koch brothers. Romney didn’t really make a choice; with his base shaky, he probably decided he had no choice. Then, to mute that notion, the insider accounts offered up the transparent spin that he had made his decision a week ago.
Certainly that would be the strategy — if the Obama campaign wasn’t in full panic mode this week after the Ryan pick. Was Obama talking about Ryan’s budget plan and how the Koch brothers would eat seniors for breakfast each morning while on the stump? Nope. Instead, Obama talked about Seamus the Roof Riding Dog not once, not twice, but at three separate appearances. Joe Biden was busy telling a Virginia audience that “they goin’ to put y’all back in chains.” Transparently, that looks like panic at having to have a substantive debate on any of the points Shrum offers here.
Maybe Team Obama should hire Shrum — although Andrew Malcolm reminds us that Democratic presidential candidates who do don’t usually end up winning:
Much of this will be accomplished by Chicago’s opposition researchers feeding negative information to a few cooperative media representatives who will deliver it to the American public as news, sources masked.
We might learn, for instance, that for two decades Ryan has been attending a church where a priest has regularly delivered such anti-American, anti-Lutheran rants that Ryan will have to deny he ever heard any of them.
And Shrum knows well how this works. After all, he’s led or worked on victorious Democrat White House campaigns for President Dick Gephardt, President Ted Kennedy, President Michael Dukakis, President Bob Kerrey, President Al Gore and, most recently, the winning come-from-ahead campaign of President John Kerry. Oh, wait.
Indeed. As I write in my column for The Week, the reason for panic over the Ryan pick is well founded in reality. Obama and his team have tangled with Ryan on more than one occasion, and the outcomes have been very consistent:
In early 2010, Obama moderated a lengthy debate between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on ObamaCare. Obama wanted to show that his plan could withstand scrutiny. Instead, Ryan methodically picked apart the fiscal arguments Obama and Democrats made to justify the Affordable Care Act as deficit-neutral — and he did so in just six minutes. Ryan finished by asking, “Are we bending the cost curve down or are we bending the cost curve up? Well,” Ryan continued, “if you look at your own chief actuary at Medicare, we’re bending it up. He’s claiming that we’re going up $222 billion, adding more to the unsustainable fiscal situation we have.” Obama’s response? He changed the subject to Medicare Advantage.
The next year, Obama invited Ryan to a speech on budget reform, which normally would signal some sort of olive branch, or at least outreach to the opposite party to find a solution in a complicated and thorny policy area. Ryan attended, sitting in the front seat — and Obama directly criticized Ryan by name, calling his budget un-American. The Wall Street Journal blasted Obama’s attack, noting that “Mr. Obama did not deign to propose an alternative to rival Mr. Ryan’s plan, even as he categorically rejected all its reform ideas, repeatedly vilifying them as essentially un-American.”Ryan responded by calling Obama the “Campaigner in Chief,” who was less interested in “building bridges [than] poisoning wells,” pointing out that the president’s proposals didn’t put a dent in deficits, let alone debt.
The next month, both plans came to a vote in the Senate. Ryan’s budget lost on a party-line vote; Obama’s lost 0-97. Erskine Bowles, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, and Obama’s own appointee to the deficit-control panel whose recommendations Obama completely ignored in that budget proposal, told a University of North Carolina audience in September 2011 that Ryan had proposed “a sensible, straightforward, serious budget and it cut the budget deficit by $4 trillion.” In contrast, Bowles told the audience, “I don’t think anyone took [Obama’s] budget very seriously.”
In February 2012, Obama proposed yet another unserious budget that ignored all of the realities of our short- and long-term fiscal shortfalls, with yet another trillion-dollar deficit. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner tried to tell Ryan and the House Budget Committee that Obama’s budget proposal would “stabilize” the deficits. This time, Ryan only needed four minutes to dismantle that argument, showing that Obama’s long-term budget only “stabilized” deficits for a decade, after which they escalated out of control — unlike Ryan’s long-term budget reforms, which solved the problem of escalating costs. “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem,” Geithner finally exclaimed. “What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
Ryan has the Obama campaign scared. In fact, maybe we can start a Seamus Index, in which we can measure the incumbent’s fear of engaging Ryan on the issues by the number of non-sequitur attacks President Hopenchange uses.
Update: Was distracted from e-mail and comments for a while, but got a few corrections on Biden’s location for the “chains” remark. He was in Danville, Virginia, not in North Carolina as I originally wrote. I’ve fixed it above, and thanks to everyone who contacted me on it.