The days following Paul Ryan’s pick as Mitt Romney’s running mate are being filled with assessments of how the addition of the young Congressman to the Republican presidential ticket will reshape the debate on the campaign trail. Ryan’s conservative ideals and policy solutions will interject a dose of much needed intellectual substance into the political discourse between presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s camp and Barrack Obama’s.
Or at least that is the hope.
Conservatives these days couldn’t be more naïve. Obama and his Democratic cohorts are out for political blood. Republican expectations for a fair substantive policy debate are nothing more than ephemeral whishes and a grave strategic miscalculation.
Democrats are merciless in their despicable attempts to depict Romney – and soon Ryan – as heartless, uncaring, dispassionate conservatives with blood on their hands. Whether it is spinning Romney’s Bain Capital record or Ryan’s Medicare cost-cutting reform proposal, the Obama camp is going to do the best at what liberals already do best: obliterate the soul of conservative values and beliefs – demonize conservatism and dehumanize its torchbearers. This time around it is our own Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
It is no coincidence that the president has welcomed Romney’s VP pick with direct attacks on the Congressman as if Ryan – not Mitt Romney – was at the top of the GOP ticket. Obama has defined Ryan as the intellectual leader of conservatives in Congress and the mastermind of nothing more than a dangerous Medicare reform proposal. By doing so, Obama has elevated Ryan as a legitimate high-value political target while laying the groundwork for his associates to go out after him. Soon enough, Ryan’s Medicare proposal will be stained with political blood.
While the above may be nothing more than the ugly face of politics, how Republicans respond becomes important to the general political debate and their own chances at success. Sadly, Republicans cannot fight back. Conservative candidates allow liberals to define them before they will define themselves. Even when they do fight, they do so timidly at best.
Recently, an ad by the Democratic/liberal Patriot USA PAC tied the death of a cancer-stricken woman to her husband being laid off from a company taken over by Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney once led. When asked during a Fox News interview to respond to the attack, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul countered that under her boss’s old plan in Massachusetts the woman would have had health insurance.
While on the surface this may be a strategic blunder that gives the opposition policy ammunition in the health care debate, its apologetic undertone that is most troublesome. It represents the lack of a tough, tooth-for-tooth, coherent message on the right to counter vicious attacks from the left. If this is how the Romney camp is going to fight back, we should all worry as Americans.
While relatively unknown, Paul Ryan is beloved by conservatives. But, as expected, he is unpopular with liberals. In fact, when Romney first introduced Ryan as his running mate, he seemed to surrender to that exact liberal view of his VP pick: “A lot of people may disagree with Paul Ryan,“ he began his introduction. That is not the way to introduce your running mate by arguably conceding to your opposition his lack of widespread appeal.
It may be honorable to want to stay focused on the issues in a campaign–talking about creating jobs while remaining positive on the campaign trail. But letting your opponent define you while failing to push back accordingly is not going to get you elected.
We all knew Obama had, and still has, nothing to run on. Not the economy, not health care or anything else. Even the “change” brand he created for himself four years ago has all but dissipated. Many of us knew his camp would go negative and ugly. But very few expected that our own Republicans at the highest levels would allow Obama and his allies to define them before they will define themselves.
It is not a question of resources. Romney’s campaign has plenty of cash at hand and much more coming in week after week. It is a question of overly simplistic strategic thinking, if not plain old naivety.
Republicans cannot get their message right. Whether at the presidential level or in local races around the country – as this writer knows well – Republican candidates and their communication teams often don’t possess or even seek the courage needed to decisively push back devious attacks by Democrats.
Stay tuned this election cycle.