The core message of Paul Ryan’s convention speech is that he and Mitt Romney can be counted on to make the tough choices Obama wouldn’t. That message is tailored to public anxiety about the economy and the deficit, and while Ryan spent a fair amount of time attacking a version of Obama that may not exist in the minds of many swing voters, the speech seemed like a political winner for the GOP.
But it’s also worth noting that it has provided Obama and Democrats an opening for a potentially effective response at their own convention.
The crux of Ryan’s argument was that the GOP ticket will have the courage and responsibility to level with the American people about the difficult choices required to salvage the nation’s ecomomy and finances.
Obama and Dems will respond by trying to transform the debate into one about priorities, seizing on the priorities undergirding the Romney/Ryan plans to lampoon their idea of what constitutes tough and courageous choices.
Obama and Dems will point out that it is not tough or courageous to cut taxes in ways that hugely benefit the rich, even as you promise to tackle the deficit. They will point out that it’s not tough or courageous to promise everyone an across-the-board tax cut hugely benefitting the wealthy without saying how it would be paid for — especially since it will require doing away with loopholes and deductions that will likely hike the middle class’s tax burden. They will point out that it’s not tough or courageous to cut spending in ways that disproportionately hurt those who can least afford it. They will point out that it’s not tough or courageous to reduce the sacrifice the rich make towards deficit reduction in ways that will increase the sacrifice of everyone else.
Republicans want this debate to be over whether we should do anything to tackle the nation’s fiscal problems. Their message is, we’ll solve the problems that Dems refuse to address. Dems will seek to transform the debate into one over how to solve these problems. Republicans want to give the rich an enormous tax cut and sweep away regulations on the theory that runaway growth will wipe away the deficit and shower everyone with prosperity. Meanwhile, they will hack deeply into specific government programs, including ending Medicare as we know it over time, that benefit everyone else. That is the GOP idea of making tough and courageous choices, Dems will say.
They will contrast that with their own vision: More investment in the nation’s infrastructure and in shoring up the middle class. A concerted effort to preserve the safety net, the core mission of entitlements, and regulations designed to prevent another Wall Street meltdown, to defend the environment, and to protect the sick and those with preexisting conditions. A modest rise in taxes on the wealthiest to pay down the deficit in a balanced way. All of these things, in isolation, are popular.
Ryan’s speech may have been very effective, and no doubt Romney’s will be as well. But Obama and Democrats get their chance, too, and the core GOP message may have teed up Dems with a good response.
* Romney’s big character deficit: With Romney set for his big speech tonight, a new Gallup poll neatly captures his challenge: While he is trailing Obama in overall favorability by five points, 48-53, Obama holds solid leads on character traits such as likeability, empathy, trustworthiness. Romney holds a lead on the economy, but the two are tied on who can manage government effectively — a supposed Romney strength — and Obama leads on Medicare, taxes and foreign affairs.
As always, if Obama can fight Romney to a draw on the economy (which remains unclear), the presidential race may end up being fought out on turf more favorable to him.
* The most dishonest convention speech ever? Jonathan Cohn makes the case by documenting the five major misleading statements and themes in Ryan’s speech. What’s remarkable is the unabashed up-is-downism of Ryan’s vow to strengthen the safety net, even though over 60 percent of the massive spending cuts in his own budget would hit programs that impact low-income people..
* The AP puts it right in the headline: The Associated Press’s take on Ryan’s speech:
Ryan takes factual shortcuts in speech
* Were Ryan’s attacks on Obama effective? The Boston Globe’s Peter Cannellos has a must-read arguing that Ryan’s attacks on the president were so over the top and geared to providing Tea Party Republicans “catharsis” that they may strain his own credibility.
As I’ve been saying here, it’s the Good-Obama-Bad-Obama conundrum at work: The Romney camp often seems to be attacking a version of Obama that is mostly a figment of the base’s imagination — how does that play with swing voters?
* Are Republicans on offense on Medicare, or on defense? A sober and balanced analysis from Ron Brownstein. Whatever the answer, the pick of Ryan — and the subsequent offensive against Obama on Medicare — represent major gambles by Romney.
* Obama campaign attacks Ryan speech:The Obama campaign is out with a new video featuring incredulous sounding anchors documenting the falsehoods and distortions in Ryan’s speech. Wolf Blitzer, for one, actually uses the L-word — “lies.”
* Romney-Ryan dishonesty a challenge to media: Michael Tomasky says the Ryan speech was effectively a middle finger to the news media, a brazen gamble that news orgs will not be up to the job of informing the public about his falsehoods. But Mike is right: However the media responds, Dems need to up their game when it comes to their own efforts to knock them down.
* Romney’s campaign based on falsehoods: Paul Krugman boils them down into five tidy bullet points, one for each claim. This is key:
The claim that Romney has a plan for economic recovery — which isn’t true. (The Economist: “The Romney Programme for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs” is like “Fifty Shades of Grey” without the sex).
There is almost no media discussion about whether Romney’s plan to fix the economic crisis would actually fix the economic crisis — even though this is what the presidential campaign is supposed to be all about.
* And Obama camp plans aggressive response to Romney speech: Romney’s speech tonight is expected to focus heavily on his business experience; Dems will counterprogram this by arguing that he can’t shake his record as a corporate buyout specialist who posted a lackluster economic record as Governor of Massachusetts.
The broader question is whether a summer of relentless attacks on Romney’s business background, tax returns, offshore accounts and gubernatorial record have defined him effectively enough to prevent the “convention reinvention,” as Dems call it, from gaining traction.