Ryan’s ability to broker bipartisan compromise is particularly important given the ambition of the candidate’s ideas. How do you put something like his Medicare plan in place when the public is reluctant? A new survey conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 58 percent of Americans want Medicare left alone. How do you overcome this opposition? Not through assertion, but through bipartisan cooperation and explanation that reaches beyond your teammates. That's what Gingrich was talking about when he criticized the Ryan plan as “right wing social engineering.” The former speaker made this assertion based on his career of passing legislation with a Democratic president. Doing big, bold things requires skills of salesmanship that neither Romney nor Ryan have demonstrated. Yet Romney asserts that these skills are part of the Ryan package.
Ultimately, selling the boldness of the Ryan plan falls on the candidate at the top of the ticket. If the Ryan pick was a bold vote for a campaign of specifics, Romney has not suddenly started talking at length about Medicare reform. That's not surprising. Who wants a PowerPoint presentation during the honeymoon? However, it does suggest that we should set our expectations low when it comes to specificity. The campaign still hopes that this election will be a referendum on Barack Obama. That means the focus will largely remain on Obama. But the campaign also knows that being the anti-Obama isn't enough to get Romney elected. Voters also want to know that Romney has a plan. Ryan helps Romney fulfill that requirement.
Romney and Ryan want points for being leaders without having to get into the details of how they’d lead. The Romney team does not want the campaign to turn into a House Budget Committee mark-up where every idea Paul Ryan has had is debated. That outcome would be bad for three reasons. First, campaigns are no place to talk complicated policy, especially if you have the burden of explanation (as Romney and Ryan do on Medicare). Second, Romney is not as good a salesman of Ryan's views as Ryan is. Three, a deep policy discussion inevitably exposes daylight between Ryan and Romney, and that will give Democrats more opportunities.
To play offense in the Medicare battle, Ryan will travel to Florida later this week to attack President Obama for the Medicare provisions contained in the Affordable Care Act. This trip is a crucial debut. But Ryan's trip is about more than the debate over the future of the program. It's a test of the campaign’s theory of boldness. Part of what the Romney/Ryan ticket is arguing is that they should get leadership points for being bold about tough issues. It's an interesting theory. Usually politicians say they're bold, seek the credit but then never actually present anything that is bold for fear of terrifying people. That's what Bush did with Social Security reform and what Obama did with health care reform during their campaigns. (Remember, Obama wasn't for the individual mandate as a candidate.) Ryan is going to try campaigning on boldness when the boldness is actually down on paper.
In his 60 Minutes interview, Ryan said that he wasn't going to destroy Medicare because his mother, who lives in the battleground state of Florida, benefits from the program. This was a prelude to another strategy we're likely to see more of in the coming weeks as Ryan deploys his biography. Romney campaign aides argue that Ryan will help Romney connect with middle-class voters the way Biden helps Obama do the same. This election is in large part about how a small number of swing voters feel about which campaign team is going to be on their side. Ryan's story of being a middle-class kid whose dad died when he was young is the Romney campaign's shield against the claim that the GOP ticket only cares about the wealthy. It’s a story Democrats can’t refute, but they’ll do their best to make it hard for him to tell it.