In the musical “Man of La Mancha,” Don Quixote vows to “dream the impossible dream” and “reach … the unreachable star.” Mitt Romney’s question is whether he has done “the impossible”: blow an unblowable Presidential race.
“If Republicans lose this election,” columnist Charles Krauthammer said months ago, “they should find another line of work.” Romney, 65, has excelled at many lines: business, the Olympics, governance, and family, but heretofore not politics, the GOP nominee failing to seize a worst-since-Depression economy.
Consider unemployment, frozen above 8 percent. The deficit tops $1 trillion yearly. Debt has soared more in three years than eight under George W. Bush. Barack Obama is proud that 48 million are on food stamps, 1 in 2 get Federal charity, and next year’s budget means more tax and spend. Minnie Mouse could beat Obama. Can Romney?
Obama blames his record on everyone but Queen Elizabeth’s pet Corgis. Since May, he has barely mentioned it — carpet-bombing Romney’s income taxes, trashing the GOPer’s past leadership at Bain Capital, refusing to criticize an ad accusing Mitt of causing a woman’s death by cancer. Romney’s response was to mime Casper Milquetoast. A pillow had more fight.
By August, Mitt trailed the Fox News Poll, 49-40 percent – incredible, given joblessness. What came next arguably stemmed from Romney’s summer sans spine. Desperate, Mitt gambled. If he wins, the choice of House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, 42, as Vice-President will seem visionary. Despite Ryan’s fine GOP Convention speech, the pick is more likely foolish: less a new lease on life than a last drop of strychnine.
Each party agrees that Federal entitlement programs, especially Medicare for the aged, are becoming unsustainable. Obama ignores the crisis like sobriety at Mardi Gras. By contrast, Ryan wants to trade the fee for service plan for a system of private health insurance. His plan is too detailed for a 30-second GOP TV ad: more patient choice, no over-age 55 change, “premium” support. It is ideal for those eager to show a Ryan lookalike driving Granny off a cliff.
Romney is betting the Presidency that Joe Average is too smart to fall for Democratic fiction. I’m betting he is wrong – since a campaign is a terrible place to explain a terribly complex issue. Worse, his risk is senseless, for Romney could have had Ryan’s strengths (youth, conservatism, insight) without his baggage (senior angst, meet sound-bite demagoguery) by choosing Florida’s Marco Rubio, as this space has urged and as his superb Convention speech showed.
Rubio speaks viscerally, as around a table, linking the immigrant experience to assimilation. Romney and Ryan relate cerebrally, as in a classroom, not grasping that politics is poetry, not prose. Unlike Rubio, Ryan doesn’t narrow the GOP Hispanic gap, clinch Florida’s 29 electoral votes, or close the gender gulf. His program may also sap support among Romney’s strongest demographic group – over 65.
Ryan is the poster boy of Republican policy wonks, academics, and self-styled smartest people in the room. (The Wall Street Journal picked Ryan two days before Romney did.) GOP intelligentsia claim they may win the Presidency, Senate, and House. Actually, Republicans could lose all three. The election should be a referendum on Obama. Needlessly, Romney has made it a referendum on Ryan’s budget, too.
My guess – it is only that – is that we should forget current polls which show Obama and Romney tied. The Chicago crowd has barely begun its work. By the time Granny has reached earth, Obama may be taking his second oath of office primed to swell amnesty, ultra-liberalize the Court, fracture America by race and class, and further explode spending.
Before picking Ryan, Romney should have listened to Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ’em.” Smart risks work. Foolish gambles don’t.
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