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Romney and Ryan: Can They Buy the Election?

August 16, 2012

Who would he select as his running mate? It was the question observers of the American political scene had been asking ever since Willard Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States. Would he follow the 2008 Republican precedent in selecting a risky potential game-changer, or would he instead plump for a safe, established, mainstream choice?

Well, what would be the rational decision? That depends on whether you think you’re heading for the rocks or whether you believe you’re set fair if you just don’t rock the boat. In the first instance, a safe but unexciting choice might mean losing by less. In Presidential politics, however, there are no prizes for limiting the size of the loss. There is no such thing as keeping the deficit to manageable proportions. If you lose by one electoral vote, you may as well lose by a hundred. Put another way, in a state of the world where you are likely to go down by three or four points, volatility is very much your friend. It’s a state of the world where it’s rational to shake the dice. And for Governor Romney, it’s a state of the world which he currently inhabits. This is reflected in the betting markets which overall give him barely a one in three chance of taking the White House, and most sophisticated forecasting models, which tend to rate his probability of evicting President Obama even lower.

The problem for Romney, however, is that most of the dice he has to play with are loaded against him. All potential game-changers those with the purse-strings would allow him to select from are fraught with huge downside risk. And money has never mattered so much since the 5-4 decision of the US Supreme Court to allow so-called super PACs to allow billionaires and corporations to spend unlimited sums of money helping or hindering individual candidates, to the massive advantage of the Republican Party in general, and Mr Romney in particular.

Yet he is himself a very cautious politician by nature who would never have made John McCain’s mistake of choosing a maverick running mate with the potential to run out of control. For that reason, he was always likely to plead with his backers to be allowed a known quantity, unlikely to create any mayhem. That pretty much ruled out Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, but just about pulls in Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the darling of Fox News, the broadcasting arm (in all but name) of the Republican Party.

So what is the downside risk with Mr Ryan?

It’s not difficult to state. He is simply the architect in chief of RyanCare, which is pretty much the idea that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security should be slashed to the core to save money, which can be used instead to cut taxes on the richest in the country. It’s a policy which all the polling shows is overwhelmingly unpopular, and the more that people understand it, the less they like it. By raising Mr Ryan to the national stage, the presumptive Republican nominee has just ensured that RyanCare will be all too well understood by the American people by the time of the election.

More generally, various statistical measures (such as the well-recognised statistical system DW-Nominate) peg him as way to the right of even Dick Cheney and certainly the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900. He is also ranked as more conservative than any Democratic nominee was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the centre of the political spectrum.

So can Mr Ryan help win his home state of Wisconsin? That’s not impossible, but his net favourable rating in his home state is, according to the polling, just five points.

So what does he add?

He adds money, lots of it, from those with most to gain from RyanCare. And he adds spice to the Fox News cheerleading bandwagon. These are factors not to be under-estimated. Without them, Romney would be already sunk with no hope of re-surfacing.

It is probably a chance that Mitt Romney thinks worth taking, the best among the limited choices his backers would allow him. With hindsight, it was a choice which became almost inevitable as soon as the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to allow unlimited flows of money to the political stage.

Is it a strategy that will work? Can money buy any office, even the highest elected office of all? In November, we shall know the answer to that question.


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