Recently I watched a HBO movie called Game Change. It tells the story of the decision by the McCain campaign in 2008 to nominate Sarah Palin as vice president. A decision taken on the fly, with almost no vetting, and the predictable result: train wreck.
This made me think about the current Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.
Now, Ryan is a much more seasoned politician than Palin. Unlike her, he has the intellectual respect of his party. And he doesn’t come from Alaska.
But for all that, the choice of Ryan may come back to haunt the Romney campaign.
Here’s the problem. Ryan was brought in to energise the base of the party, as well as to attract the Tea Party crowd. He was the social and fiscal warrior the Republicans apparently yearned for.
Take his views on abortion. Even by the standards of the United States, Ryan is an extremist. In “Ryan-land”, abortion would be illegal in virtually all circumstances, including rape. Yesterday Ryan accused President Obama of pandering to pro-abortion activists.
Or welfare reform. The Ryan budget plan would eviscerate a host of government-funded social programs, notably Medicare and Medicaid. Income tax rates would drop to 10% and 25%, with unspecified elimination of tax-breaks to compensate for the lost revenue.
Great. The base love all this stuff. Or do they?
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll in three battleground states - Virginia, Florida and Ohio - revealed some worrying trends for the Romney campaign. Firstly, Obama has a clear lead in all three. Secondly, the number of undecided voters is tiny. And thirdly, Obama is gaining support among evangelicals. He’s now getting a third of these voters, when in 2008 he only got a fifth.
In other words, the very people that Ryan is supposed to bring to the table seem to be trending to Obama.
Then there’s the obvious downside to Ryan. Women voters as a rule aren’t too keen on his anti-abortion views. Obama already had a huge lead there. Expect that to increase.
We’ll also no doubt see Romney spending a great deal of the forthcoming debates distancing himself from the Ryan budget plan.
Given all this, what was the point of picking Paul Ryan? What does it tell us about Mitt Romney, apart from the fact that he seems to lack judgement on critical decisions?
The scriptwriters at HBO might be sharpening their pencils for “Game Changer II”.