Peter Lawler has some very useful thoughts below on the pros and cons of picking Ryan. Picking Ryan meant that Obama’s Mediscare campaign (which was coming anyway since Romney had already endorsed premium support Medicare) came early and possibly harder than it otherwise would have. The Romney campaign’s message on Medicare faces several challenges. Much of the mainstream media is staffed with journalists who have a bias (at various levels of consciousness) against explaining how Ryan’s most recent premium support proposal works and are also not that interested in explaining that Obama has proposed to cut Medicare by the exact same amount as Ryan. These journalists aren’t usually being propagandists like the primetime hosts of MSNBC. The revenue model of MSNBC depends on the networks primetime hosts reassuring their audience members about their prior political commitments. MSNBC isn’t Ryan-Romney’s problems. The people watching primetime MSNBC as something other than unintended comedy already know how they are going to vote.
Ryan-Romney’s real problem is that mainstream journalists already have the narrative in their heads about Ryan the Medicare cutter and Obama the Medicare protector. These journalists are (usually) trying do their jobs, but their preexisting narrative skews how they examine the issue. They know that Ryan’s proposal should be looked at closely, but don’t especially know or care much about Obama’s Medicare proposal. That these journalists work in environment where their peers overwhelmingly sympathize with Obama probably tends to amplify this bias.
Romney-Ryan also faces a problem with many of their allies. Lots of conservative popularizers in the media (to include television and talk radio) developed their rhetorical specialties in a different era. They (and large parts of their audience) are comfortable talking about the things they have been talking about for a long time. I was watching the Fox News 6:00 PM show yesterday and Pat Buchanan was on the panel He couldn’t wait to stop talking about Medicare and move on to something else. Our most popular local conservative talk show host has spent more time talking about food stamp fraud than premium support Medicare in those times I’ve listened. I was driving home late last evening and tuned into the Michael Savage show. Jed Babbin was filling in. Babbin’s 7:00 PM description of Ryan’s Medicare proposal was a combination of rushed and incomprehensible. Some fraction of the center-right’s communicators are just more comfortable talking about tax cuts and welfare fraud than Medicare reform. Even when they try to help Ryan out, they are still in the early stages of learning a new language.
So here is where we are: Those persuadable Americans who get their information from the mainstream media will get a badly distorted view of Ryan’s latest proposal, and get no idea of Obama’s centralized Medicare cuts. Even some who get their information from the right-leaning media will get a garbled message. So what is Romney to do? I think the most important thing to do is make the most out of Paul Ryan.
Ryan is the best communicator Republicans have on Medicare. So Romney needs to put Ryan in front of as much of the public as possible, as directly as possible, for as long as possible. It doesn’t help much to just have Ryan going around giving stump speeches. He will obviously do that, but the impact of those speeches will be limited. The national news shows will cover maybe 30 seconds. The local news in the market where Ryan is speaking might carry a minute of what Ryan actually says. In any case, the editing decisions will be made at the news outlet, and the person doing the editing might (and probably will) ignore what is most effective in Ryan’s presentation.
So that is why Romney should make Ryan the focus of lengthy ads. Give Ryan a couple of minutes. Ryan is able to be critical without seeming malicious or hostile. He is also good at making complicated stuff simple. He has been working hard at that for a long time.
People are going to hear about the Republican Medicare plan from somebody. Best for them to hear it from Ryan unfiltered. The alternative is that they will hear about it from Obama’s media allies and well wishers. People aren’t going to hear about Obama’s proposed Medicare cuts and centralized rationing unless they are told by the Romney campaign. Ryan is the guy to explain what is right about Ryan-Wyden-style Medicare reform and what is wrong about Obama’s centralized rationing approach. Put him in front of the camera with some graphics and fund the ad buy. Picking Ryan involved risks. You’ve already taken all the risk. Make the most out of Ryan’s strengths.
Put Ryan on paid media to explain Medicare. Do it now. Do it big. It is the best chance our side has.