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To trust his finger on the budget button

To trust his finger on the budget button

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2012 7:06 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — With the announcement that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be the GOP’s keynote speaker, it’s official that what’s left of the party’s more moderate wing will be amply represented at the Tampa convention. Mainstream Republicans across the country are fighting to regain their party from the populist insurgency on the Right that we know as the Tea Party.
In primaries this week, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson edged out a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, and in Florida, 19-year incumbent Rep. John Mica handily defeated a Tea Party freshman challenge. The two Floridians were pitted against each other because of re-districting. Mica’s opponent had Palin’s endorsement, which had produced a string of victories in Senate primaries.
The Republican backlash reflects extreme anxiety over where Tea Party priorities and politics are taking the GOP. By choosing Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney cements his ties to the right, protecting himself from a Tea Party uprising at the convention. But he must now deal with a backlash from more mainstream Republicans engaged in a titanic struggle to keep the GOP from further slipping into the Tea Party’s grip.
The average person today might not know exactly what Ryan stands for, or how the budget he drafted as chairman of the House Budget committee would transform Medicare and Medicaid. But voters will be educated by the time they vote in November, and if history is any guide, they won’t like what they learn. Polls show a majority of Americans oppose changes in Medicare, with 79 percent of seniors opposed even if the changes don’t affect them. The Ryan plan as now written would impact people younger than the age of 55.
President Obama says Ryan is an articulate spokesman for Romney’s beliefs, and those beliefs include transforming Medicare into a premium support system, where seniors would receive a government voucher they could use to purchase private insurance. Independent studies show that seniors would end up paying some $6,000 more a year for health care coverage as the government subsidy is unlikely to rise as fast as the cost of health care.
It won’t take long for Ryan’s plan to sink into the voters’ psyche, and for voters to pick up on the passion with which he discusses what Newt Gingrich, no squeamish moderate, has called “right-wing social engineering.” Not since Barry Goldwater declared in his acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention that, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” has there been such a clear voice and clarion call for the set of governing ideas and ideals that Ryan embodies.
Goldwater lost in a landslide amidst concern that he could not be trusted with his finger on the nuclear button. Ryan faces a similar risk with proposals that Democrats are characterizing as radical and that “would end Medicare as we know it.” Will voters trust Ryan with his finger on the budget button?
The Romney campaign focused on avoiding the mistake John McCain made in naming Sarah Palin, an unknown figure who voters could not credibly imagine stepping into the presidency on a moment’s notice should that be required.
In some ways, Ryan is Palin’s polar opposite, a policy wonk who knows the issues and doesn’t need tutoring. But he doesn’t bring managerial experience, or foreign policy credentials, and it’s a big move up to the vice-presidency from the House of Representatives.
Ryan is less credentialed than Palin, who at least governed a state when McCain picked her, and he’s potentially scarier to voters than Goldwater when it comes to Medicare.
That makes him a double whammy for Romney, who until now had been branded as risk averse — no more.

Published in The Messenger 8.17.12

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