Some people are praising Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan for vice president as being brave and bold. Others claim that it will make the Ryan budget the centerpiece of the presidential election. Politically, it shores up his conservative base and energizes them. But what the pick really shows is that Romney will be a spineless puppet of the GOP’s right wing and won’t ever stand up to the GOP base or conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.
Romney’s selection of Ryan shows that he will govern as a severe conservative and won’t have the courage to go against the Tea Party, the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, Grover Norquist, Eric Cantor, the NRA, or Joe the Plumber. Clearly, his foreign policy will be governed by the Neocons, who got us into Iraq and would love to take on Iran. His Supreme Court selections will fit the mold of Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, who rule in a knee-jerk manner reflecting conservative, right-wing ideology.
As president, Romney will make President Reagan seem like George McGovern because of his fear of alienating his conservative base. During a Romney/Ryan administration, seniors, Medicare and Medicaid recipients, women, the poor and the middle class, and minorities will be in for a worse ride than Seamus, the Romney pet dog who was strapped in a carrier on top of the car during a 12-hour family trip in 1983.
Romney’s situation will be similar to that of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who was literally held hostage by the knuckle-dragging Tea Party wing of the GOP during the debt-ceiling crisis. While Boehner’s instinct was to compromise with the Democrats to get things done, he knew that the hard-core conservatives in the House wouldn’t go along with him.
Romney knows that if he cuts a budget deal that increases taxes on the wealthy as part of a grand deal to balance the federal budget, he will be treated like Bush 41 and lose conservative support as well as his re-election bid. He realizes that the conservative base of the party will never totally trust him and that he will need to consistently make conservative decisions to keep the base from revolting. Any time that he will try to work with Democrats, his base will excoriate him.
Sometimes, presidents need to buck their own party and compromise with the opposing party to get things done. President Reagan raised taxes several times. President Clinton ended up supporting welfare reform, and President Obama has compromised on several issues, including health care, birth control, and the debt ceiling.
During the 1992 presidential election, Clinton benefited from his Sister Souljah moment. The rapper had told the Washington Post that, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Clinton condemned her words in a speech to Jesse Jackson Sr.’s Rainbow Coalition, which resulted in praise for Clinton in standing up to the liberal base and portraying him as a reasonable centrist.
Romney seems incapable of a Sister Souljah moment, where he would publicly repudiate an extremist, right-wing conservative position, person, or statement in order to show an independent streak. Last week, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman suggested on CNN that Romney needed a Sister Souljah moment and needs to stand up to the GOP base. Nate Cohn of The New Republic agreed, stating last week, “Here’s a candidate completely dependent on winning moderate, independent, and perhaps even Democratic-leaning independent voters making no effort to reposition himself toward the center at a time when his party is unpopular.”
At this point, even if Romney tried to do this, most people would see through the strategy as being an Etch A Sketch Moment, as opposed to a Sister Souljah moment.
President Reagan won over many “Reagan Democrats” during his presidential campaigns. George W. Bush won some independent votes by campaigning as a compassionate conservative. Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan makes it harder to conceive that there will be many Romney Democrats this election. The Ryan pick wasn’t a profile in courage, it was more like a profile in capitulation and pandering. The Romney campaign slogan might as well be, “The only thing we have to fear is the Tea Party itself.”
Larry Atkins, a lawyer and a journalist, teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. He has written for the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post, NPR, Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.