Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A boring white guy will (counter)balance Romney's ticket

Jonathan Chait points out today that Romney's veep pick will tell us whether he's decided his campaign needs a game-changer (ethnic! female! ideologue!) or whether he remains confident that hammering Obama for a limping economy will be enough, in which case the pick will be the "boring white guy" the campaign hinted at in May.

I am of the James Fallows school of Romney campaign advisers.  Romney, Fallows suggests, should stick to one message:
  • The economy is broken;
  • Obama can't fix it;
  • I can.
Of course, Romney's formula has also required hiding the fixin' prescription. And that's where the veep choice will represent a crossroads. "Boring white guy" would not mean a neutral, neither-help-nor-hinder placemarker. He (not she) would help Romney continue to hide the ball.

There are two Mitt Romneys for public consumption, or for part-of-the-public consumption.  One, the Romney 2.0 released in the primaries, is Grover Norquist's "Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen" -- a pol publicly committed to a  variation of the Ryan budget. This Romney is supposed to be visible only to movement conservatives: as Katrina van Heuvel puts it, his "tax and spending plans are so irresponsible, so cruel, so extreme that they are literally incredible. Voters may find it hard to believe anyone would support such things, so they are likely to discount even factual descriptions as partisan distortion."  A game-changing veep choice would imply unfurling the Tea Party policy banners rather than just flashing their colors.

Romney 1.0, still with us a packaging for version 2.0, is a nonideological former businessman and moderate governor who can claim with some credibility, "I know why some jobs come and some jobs go." This Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, used every trick he could find to raise revenue without nominally raising taxes, refused to sign Norquist's tax pledge and signed a law allowing municipalities to raise commercial property taxes, and leveraged a Medicaid windfall to finance an innovative plan to provide universal health insurance in his state.

To exploit economic discontent, Romney must present Romney 1.0 to most of the electorate, continuing to obscure the extremist economic policies he is committed to.  Romney 1.0 is reassuring, competent, analytical, in control and hard-nosed about tax and spending realities.  He needs a #2 who reinforces that persona, one who has held a responsible position for an extended period and delivered credible (or ostensibly credible) results and who is not a flag-bearer for Tea Party economics. Such a sidekick would provide, not exactly balance, but additional counterbalance to the heavy burden of obligatory Republican extremism on policy.

In the Republican political universe, that person is likely to be a boring white guy.  That's the ticket, laddie.

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