The Two Excuses Republicans Are Making for Paul Ryan

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 24 2012 4:43 PM

The Two Excuses Republicans Are Making for Paul Ryan

If Mitt Romney manages to lose the 2012 election, the explanation will have already been written, stamped, and approved. Romney lost because he wasn't bold enough. More importantly, Romney lost because he didn't unleash Paul Ryan.

Both of our papers of record went up today with versions of this argument, expressed by increasingly panicky conservatives. They're fun, but inevitable. It appears that the Grey Lady's copy editor just gave up halfway through promos.

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That aside, I read these stories and see two main arguments.

Ryan's doing all he can, people. His colleagues in the House are making this argument. "You get a short story — you get a sonnet, a haiku — when you’re on the stump," says Rep. Trey Gowdy. "The electorate is not ready for a two-hour dissertation on the unfunded liabilities within the Medicare system," says Rep. Aaron Schock.

They're not letting Ryan be Ryan. Chris Chocola, head of the Club for Growth, makes that argument to the NYT: "The Romney ticket would be well served to let Paul Ryan be Paul Ryan." Rep. Mick Mulvaney suggests that the pundits under-rate how much voters want to hear Ryan get wonky on them. Cato's health care whiz Michael Tanner asks: "Why do you pick somebody like Paul Ryan if you’re going to run a referendum, Obama’s-done-a-bad-job campaign?" You can hear Romney himself validate this argument on 60 Minutes, when he says, with accidental dismissiveness, that he doesn't have to answer for Ryan's budget.

When Ryan was picked, some hopeful pundits predicted that the election would turn on his budget. To an extent, it has. Even if the shimmery Obama polls reflect the last glimmers of the DNC bounce, dig into the internals and you can see new Romney softness with older voters. How to explain that, if you're a conservative? Well, either Romney is betraying Ryan's great idea ("we need this debate, and we will win this debate"), or voters aren't hearing enough of it.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.