There aren’t a whole lot of similarities between Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin. Unlike Palin, Ryan is bright and is considered a policy wonk. But there’s one clear similarity between the two: Both were picked to be on the ticket out of desperation.
Nate Silver had it exactly right when he Tweeted:
I think Ryan pick (if rumors true) indicates bearish view from Romney campaign. Not a pick you make if you think you’re ahead.
Ben Smith of Politico likewise tweeted that this pick was “the first real surprise move in Romney’s political career.” And David Frum said that with this pick Romney had “converted what ought to be an easy win for the out party into the biggest gamble since 1964.” Why? Social Security and Medicare. Romney has played it coy on whether he supports the Ryan plan to privatize those programs, trying to prevent that plan from being hung around his neck, but he has now hung that albatross on himself. The Ryan plan is now his plan and it is wildly unpopular with middle class and older voters, both usually firm members of the Republican coalition.
This is a hail mary pass, made as the campaign has begun to clearly turn in Obama’s favor in the swing state polls. Will it work better than McCain’s desperation move of picking Palin in 2008? It won’t be that disastrous. Ryan will not look unpresidential and will not scare people at the thought of him having to take over for Romney for some reason; no sane person could see Palin try to answer simple questions and have confidence that she could run the country. But the Obama campaign is already cuing up their ads on the Ryan plan and those ads are likely to be very effective. David Frum knows exactly what those ads will look like:
A woman’s voice over. “You’ve worked hard all your life. You’ve paid Medicare taxes for almost 30 years. But under the Republican plan, Medicare won’t be there for you. Instead of Medicare as it exists now, under the Republican plan you’ll get a voucher that will pay as little as half your Medicare costs when you turn 65—and as little as a quarter in your 80s. And all so that millionaires and billionaires can have a huge tax cut.”
That ad will draw blood and will—as Henry Kissinger used to say—have the additional merit of being true.
Conservative bloggers and pundits will love it; independent voters and the elderly, who vote in high numbers, will not.