Part of the media consensus on Mitt Romney's choice of running mate seems to be that conservatives just love Paul Ryan to pieces. And that's true, up to a point. The Tea Party types think he's great, but they're reactionaries who measure a politician by the responses of liberals -- lefties hate him, so he must be OK. And, of course, the rightwing punditry likes him for similar reasons; liberals will fight this guy tooth and nail and conflict equals ratings.
But there's one group on the right who don't like Mitt Romney's choice at all. We'll call them "people who know what the hell they're talking about" or PWKWTHTTAs.
Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington: Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.
In more than three dozen interviews with Republican strategists and campaign operatives — old hands and rising next-generation conservatives alike — the most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election.
While many of these PWKWTHTTAs are genuinely excited to see someone as hard-right as on the ticket, Politico reports that "the more pessimistic strategists... think the Ryan pick is a disaster for the GOP. Many of these people don’t care that much about Romney -- they always felt he faced an improbable path to victory -- but are worried that Ryan’s vocal views about overhauling Medicare will be a millstone for other GOP candidates in critical House and Senate races."
At this point, I'd point out that the difference between a pessimist and a realists is dependent entirely on the context of history; i.e., a realist is a pessimist who's been proven right. And right now, the pessimists' arguments are looking pretty realistic. And the pessimists make up the bulk of the PWKWTHTTAs.
"There are a lot races that are close to the line we're not going to win now because they're going to battle out who's going to kill grandma first, ObamaCare or Paul Ryan's budget," a Republican strategist who works on congressional races told The Hill. "It could put the Senate out of reach. In the House it puts a bunch of races in play that would have otherwise been safe... It remains to be seen how much damage this causes, but my first blush is this is not good."
In any sane party, Paul Ryan would be considered toxic. His budget plans have been wildly unpopular and the party's response to that unpopularity has been as clueless as it's been inept. For example, when addressing the fact that seniors hate the Ryan Plan, pundits run straight to the fact that no one over 55 would affected by the Medicare privatization.
But that assumes that these seniors' concerns are entirely selfish -- i.e., quintessentially Republican. They're not. Seniors on Medicare have direct experience with the program's effect on a person's life. That Medicare will always be there for them is great -- but they want it to be there for their kids, too. And pointing out that Ryan's privatization scheme would only affect their children and grandchildren isn't the selling point that airheaded pundits seem to believe it should be.
And it's that that may be the largest problem Paul Ryan brings to the ticket. It's not the Republican plan itself, it's the tendency of the plan's defenders to completely miss the point. When some runs the "no one under 55 will be affected" defense, they're actually confirming some of people's worst fears. After all, if the plan were so earthshatteringly awesome, why would seniors be exempt? What pundits and politicians believe is a selling point is actually perceived as evidence that it's a lousy deal. And good evidence, if you bother to apply logic.
As much as concerns about the unpopularity of the Ryan Plan should keep Republicans up at night, so should the right's misunderstanding of Ryan detractors' objections. In defending the plan, they wind up sounding like Republicans -- all selfishness and greed, no compassion or sympathy. "Sure, your kids will be screwed," they might as well say, "but you'll be OK and that's all that matters, right?"
And that defense may do more to kill them at the polls than anything in the plan they're defending.