<B>Tactical Animal: Now We’ve Got Ourselves A Race</B>
Sep 2012 04

Tactical Animal: Now We’ve Got Ourselves A Race

Posted In Blog,Politics

by ChrisSick

Paul Ryan. Well, hot damn.

Background:

At the start of the summer I discussed – with our lovely SG News editor, Nicole Powers – the idea of writing a horserace style campaign blog. A week-in-week-out, who-won-this-round, sort of analysis for the purest of the pure political junkies. I wanted to tear through all the meaningless shit and campaign antics that average voters just couldn’t give less of a fuck about, but the political werewolves, the true tactical animals, can’t get enough of.

Funny thing happened on the way. First, I got busy and distracted with real life.

Then – and much, much worse – I got bored.

This hasn’t been a fun race by stretch of the imagination. Mitt Romney is so godawfully boring he makes dry toast look like a culinary adventure. And Team Gobama has replaced ’08s Hope & Change with Karl Rove’s ’04 reelection playbook – known to informed political junkies as “Independents? Fuck the independents.”

The campaign had officially become No Fun. And given that this is the first presidential election I’ll observe without the helpful assistance of bourbon or heroin, it just didn’t seem like there was anything worth saying. Polls gave Team Gobama a consistent but small lead. Ed Gillespie remained employed by Team Mittens apparently due to an office betting pool to see if him or the candidate would have the most gaffes by Election Day.

Overall, it looked like the President would eek out a largely meaningless win without an electoral mandate and go on to see his second term as stymied by Republican opposition in Congress as the later half of his first has been.

But then – Paul motherfucking Ryan. Hot damn.

Paul Ryan changes the entire dynamic of the race. Since the outset, Team Mittens has hoped the ’12 election would be a pure referendum on the first term of the President. That the combination of a painfully weak recovery and persistently high unemployment would result in enough anyone-but-Obama votes to ride him into the White House without the sticky business of being pinned down to specific policy prescriptions, making campaign promises, or answering a lot of uncomfortable questions about his taxes.

With the addition of Paul Ryan to the race, election 2012 has become about big ideas and competing visions for the future of the country. Paul Ryan is – despite some schism in his party – the acknowledged go-to-guy for big ideas on the budget, debt, and deficit. He’s articulated a specific policy remedy to a problem that Republicans had previously mostly used as cudgel against Democrats without bothering to ever remedy themselves.

Specifically: Mittens and Ryan and Republicans at every level of the ticket, will argue that dramatic reductions in taxes, regulation, and government services will unleash the magical powers of the free market, boost economic growth, and that said growth will – eventually — offset the reduced revenue and pay down the growing Federal deficit.

Team Gobama and Democrats, on the other hand, want to see the maintenance and expansion of the social safety net, increases in stimulus spending, and higher taxes for the upper brackets to start reducing deficit spending now, while arguing that the debt is best addressed after the economic recovery is complete.

And because of this, the election officially matters now. Even a narrow win by either candidate can and will become a mandate for their preferred ideology.

But more important – for my purposes, anyway – this election is going to be fun. There’s going to be attack ads with Mittens and Ryan gleefully shoving seniors over cliffs. The President is going to be called a socialist – more than he already has been. Ayn Rand’s name will be mispronounced by anchors on major cable television networks. There’s a fifty-fifty shot Joe Biden will show up at a press conference drunk and challenge Paul Ryan to mud wrestle him.

Because being a tactical animal, a true political werewolf, isn’t about policy. It isn’t about addressing meaningful solutions to endemic failures of government or solving systemic problems.

No.

This is politics as bloodsport. This is about the greatest joy a political junkie can feel: watching their preferred candidate slip a metaphorical icepick in between the ribs of the opponent and then walk off to kiss a baby while their lungs fill with blood.

“Not everybody is comfortable with the idea that politics is a guilty addiction. But it is. They are addicts, and they are guilty and they do lie and cheat and steal – like all junkies. And when they get in a frenzy, they will sacrifice anything and anybody to feed their cruel and stupid habit, and there is no cure for it. That is addictive thinking. That is politics – especially in presidential campaigns. That is when the addicts seize the high ground. They care about nothing else. They are salmon, and they must spawn. They are addicts.” -Hunter S. Thompson, Better Than Sex

With that firmly established as the raison d’etre for this column, let’s get down to the numbers and the tactics. The numbers have been ugly for Mitt Romney from the start:

He’s never been well-liked by the more rabid base of his party, who would’ve much preferred a nominee more willing to be openly racist – Gingrich or Santorum – who could thoroughly vet the President. By which they seem to mean accuse him of hating white people, America, capitalism, and, I don’t know…kittens.
.
That these particular attacks haven’t been very effective with the remaining 45 – 50% of the country that supports the President is of little concern to them. The Tea Party/Republican base cares far more about attacking the President as criminal, racist, and corrupt than they do about actually winning the election. For them, it is their salmon swimming upstream moment. They don’t care if it wins votes or not, it just feels right.

But with Ryan, now Mittens has got that base back on his side. Which, says a lot straight from the jump. I can’t remember the last time a President picked a running mate who hadn’t been a primary challenger to win votes within his own party. But then again, we’re talking about a man who got a bigger tax break for his pony last year than you made in income.

For his pony.

You can see how that could present unique challenges for Citizen Mittens. And while Ryan might provide a short-term bump in the polls, his team needs to be very smart and very lucky (so far they’ve been neither) to carry that bump beyond the convention. Long-term, it signals what a bumbling shambles his campaign has become though.

Beginning in July the pressure to release his taxes became so great that Romney was facing denouncements from respected political veterans within his own party – like the guy who pays black people not to vote on Election Day, or the one who assured Republicans that Sarah Palin was the future of the party. Important, respected Republicans were turning on him.

Fleeing the country and the bad press for a chance to sell himself as an intercontinental man of the world, Citizen Mitt managed to offend half of Europe and most of the Middle East, as well as the entirety of the traveling press corps. Only to return home to have to deal with grade-school-chicken-shit accusations from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – which they couldn’t even mount a defense to other than to call Reid a dirty, dirty liar. Seriously, that was Republican’s official response. I’m not making that up.

Which brings us full circle to the announcement of Ryan as veep candidate. The news broke on a Friday evening when most respectable political journalists were already down the bar, half-in-the-bag. Friday is known as take-out-the-trash day, because no one’s paying attention so it’s a good time for campaigns to release news they don’t want anyone to see.

We won’t know until the bitter and unemployed members of Team Mittens start releasing their tell-all election books sometime next year why the release was dropped Friday evening. But we can all clearly tell that the pressure to shake up the race was getting to them. And the problem, for Republicans at least, is that while Paul Ryan as veep makes this a race, it doesn’t fundamentally alter the dynamics of that race.

Team Mittens is still, at bottom, cooking with the wrong ingredients. Paul Ryan is conventionally attractive, articulate, and not given to sounding as radical as his policy prescriptions actually are. But Paul Ryan isn’t at the top of the ticket and, as Rahm Emmanuel said after the announcement, you can’t outsource likability. An effective advocate is not the same as an effective candidate.

Moreover, after the long summer slump of speculation on the VP selection, it’s safe to say what Team Romney wasn’t comfortable with. They became convinced that playing small-ball with a candidate who might comfortably deliver a swing state, like Marco Rubio or Rob Portman, won’t be enough to carry them into the White House. They went for a game changer. But all they got was a candidate that Team Gobama was already salivating at the prospect of running against.

Democracy Corps, a DNC-affiliated polling and strategy firm, has been focus-testing the living shit out of Ryan’s much-touted “Pathway to Prosperity” to figure out the best framing for the attack. See, Democrats had already planned to saddle Romney with Ryan’s budget, whether he supports it or not. Putting Ryan on the ticket, accepting his plan and all its failings, just makes the lift easier.

And since this is exactly that type of blog, I’ll make a nine-week-out prediction for the general election: Barrack Obama is going to be reelected President, and he’s going to do it with at least a three-point margin in the popular vote and 300 votes in the electoral college. And I’ll take any action anyone wants to lay down on that.

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