Now, no less a Republican standard bearer than Mitt Romney, the GOP’s presidential nominee-in-waiting, is invoking Wyden as evidence of his new running mate’s crossover appeal.
Speaking about the Ryan-Wyden proposal at a Saturday rally at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Romney said that Ryan “found a Democrat to co-lead a piece of legislation to make sure we can save Medicare.”
In Manassas, Romney explicitly name-checked Wyden to argue that Ryan actually wanted to save Medicare where President Obama and Democrats wanted to slash it. “Paul Ryan and Senator Wyden said, ‘No, we need to restore, retain and protect Medicare,’ ” Romney said. “That’s what our party will do.”
Wyden is apparently displeased about his sudden prominence as a validator of the Republican ticket.
“Governor Romney is talking nonsense,” Wyden said in a statement to reporters Saturday night. He based most of his objection to Romney’s remarks on semantics, saying his proposal with Ryan was not legislation but “a policy paper.”
That is not an explanation that his fellow Democrats find persuasive.
“He got used,” said one Senate Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about how Wyden is seen among Democrats in the Senate.
A common view of Wyden within his own caucus is of a man who holds himself out as an intellectually superior renegade who is above the constraints of politics. That self-regard, and a tendency toward peevishness, sometimes leads him to stake out positions that are politically inconvenient to his party. The chief effect of his collaboration with Ryan has been to boost the Republican vice presidential candidate’s bipartisan bona fides and to give the Romney campaign a data point to distract voters from the more politically charged vision of Medicare offered in Ryan’s budget proposal.
By inviting Ryan onto the ticket, Romney energized his base and focused the national debate more squarely on fiscal issues. But he also attached himself to the man the Obama campaign and Democrats will continue to attack as the embodiment of the threat to Medicare’s existence. (One ad depicted Ryan as physically pushing a senior citizen in a wheelchair off a cliff.)
Ryan’s 2011 deficit-slashing budget proposal elevated him to a tea party hero and marked him as a Democratic bogeyman. The Wisconsin congressman subsequently offered a more moderate approach, perhaps in an effort to soften his image and boost his party’s fortunes. Wyden, to the horror of his own party, helped him do that. While Ryan’s original legislation proposed giving seniors federal dollars to purchase private health coverage, the Wyden-Ryan proposal was more politically palatable, giving seniors a choice between traditional Medicare and expanded private coverage.