Approach and avoidance

    Does Mitt Romney endorse, or does he not endorse, his running mate’s draconian budget plan? It all depends on which bit of Mitt spin you choose to believe.Romney tapped Paul Ryan for the Republican ticket because he badly needed somebody with core convictions. But we don’t know whether, or to what extent, the core-free presidential nominee actually shares Ryan’s convictions. And that’s because, with respect to the Ryan budget plan, Romney keeps twisting like a weather vane.  I know, big surprise.By joining forces with the wonkish House conservative, Romney takes ownership of Ryan’s highly specific proposal to kill guaranteed Medicare and turn it into a privatized voucher program – as well the wunderkind’s bid to decimate Medicaid and other federal programs vital to the working poor; to slash virtually all federal functions (except for defense, of course); and to slash taxes on rich folks and corporations (naturally).But good luck trying to figure out whether Romney wants or intends to own it or not. Let us review.1. Earlier this year, Romney said: “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president.” He also said, “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan…It’s an excellent piece of work and very much needed.” He also said that if he were president, he would sign it.2. On Saturday, within minutes of the Ryan veep announcement, Romney’s flaks said: “Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan.”3. On Sunday morning, Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said on TV: “If the Ryan budget had come to (Romney’s) desk as a budget, he would have signed it, of course.” Republican national chairman Reince Preibus said on TV that Romney “did embrace the Ryan budget. He embraced it.”4. On Sunday evening, during an appearance on 60 Minutes, Romney was asked about the Ryan budget. He replied: “Well, I have my budget plan, as you know, that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.”OK. I think we can figure this out: Even though Romney says he’s “very supportive” of the Ryan plan, which is “marvelous” enough to warrant his signature as president (#1), he’s not endorsing it as his own because he intends to put his signature on an unspecified plan of his own (#2). But even though he intends to float his own unspecified plan, he still would have signed the Ryan plan and in fact does embrace the Ryan plan (#3). But even though he does embrace the Ryan plan that he would have signed, he does not intend to run on the Ryan plan, because he has his own plan to run on (#4).I hope that clears things up. Or maybe it’s just a bad case of approach-avoidance.Romney has opted to import Ryan’s ideological ballast, but Romney is still Romney. He’s instinctively allergic to the kind of specificity that Ryan offers. Which, in a narrow sense, is quite understandable – given the Ryan plan’s political toxicity.Democrats are rightly giddy about Romney’s veep pick because the Ryan plan polls so poorly. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg noted in a July 12 memo, voters freak out when informed about Ryan’s plans for Medicare, Medicaid, and the social safety net. In early summer, Greenberg said that President Obama had a three-point lead over Romney; but after respondents were told about Ryan, Obama’s lead expanded to eight points, thanks to “significant gains” among independents, unmarried women, youth, and minority voters – most notably Hispanics, who are crucial in a number of swing states. Greenberg concluded: “Highlighting the Ryan budget’s impact on the most vulnerable seriously weakens Romney.”Which helps explain why Romney keeps Etch a Sketching his stance on the Ryan plan (#1 versus #2; #3 versus #4). Heck, even some prominent conservatives acknowldge the political perils of a full-throated embrace. Here’s ex-Bush speechwriter and conservative commentator David Frum:”Paul Ryan is wrong, wrong, wrong to imagine that a society can deal with rising social-insurance costs while entirely exempting Republican-voting age cohorts and without asking for anything from its richest people — in fact, while simultaneously delivering those people a huge tax cut. Medicare reform will mean large sacrifices for younger and poorer Americans, exactly the people who have lost most in this recession and the slow-growth years before the recession. A president cannot ask that generation to bear all the remaining burden of sacrifice alone. You can’t lead the battle for deficit reduction from the rear. Yet that is exactly the proposition embedded in the Ryan plan. That’s bad politics — and worse governance.”Bad politics indeed. But now that Romney has taken Ryan aboard, he owns the Ryan crusade – no matter how often he tries to wriggle free.——-Permit me to euologize someone you’ve probably never heard of. But without this guy, chances are you would never have heard of me. Jim Naughton, a former senior editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and overlord of the newsroom, died on Saturday at age 73. He was a pivotal player in the paper’s most fabled era, and he made my career possible. When he learned of my interest in baseball, he made me the baseball writer in 1991. When I wanted to beg off on baseball and become the national political writer in 1992, he made me the national political writer. When I wanted to go overseas for a few years, he signed off on my move to the London bureau. When I wanted to return in time for the 1996 presidential race, he engineered my move back to national politics. Jim loved journalism; just as importantly, he thought the job should be fun. I concur, and I owe him so much. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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