Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate on the Republican ticket will help win Jewish votes. For the Democrats.
Ryan may help Romney shore up support among Tea Partiers and evangelicals who don’t really trust his claims of conversion to their cause, but it is those issues that will cost him Jewish support.
Like everyone else in the Republican primaries, Romney ran hard to the right and was expected to follow the Nixon dictum and pivot toward the center for the general election. Even senior advisors expected that when one spoke of the Etch-A-Sketch campaign. But instead Romney moved further to the right with his choice of a running mate.
Turnout is critical and each party will be using Ryan to motivate its base to go to the polls, but for Republicans that appeal to hardline conservatives could cost them votes among undecided Jewish voters and independents in the center whose support will be critical in an election as close as this one appears to be.
Romney’s effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue in this campaign is overrated. Jews will still vote overwhelmingly Democratic again this year and it is questionable whether the GOP can draw off enough of their votes to make a difference in battleground states like Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Medicare-sensitive Florida. His real goal isn’t really votes anyway. It’s big bucks from conservative, deep-pocket donors who put Israel at the top of their agenda.
Foreign and defense policies are the Romney-Ryan ticket’s weak spots. Neither man has any foreign policy experience — Romney’s recent overseas trip showed he’s not ready for prime time in that realm — and their combined military experience constitutes running down the gangplank on a mothballed World War II battleship Saturday morning to announce the young Wisconsin congressman’s selection.
While Republicans argue that Ryan’s presence on the ticket will enhance its focus on jobs and the economy, in reality it will shift the focus to his budget proposals that would significantly alter Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other entitlement programs high on the Jewish agenda.
Romney has praised the Ryan budget as “marvelous” and said if he were president and it landed on his desk, he would sign it. Translation: He just bought it and made it his own.
Campaign aides scampered to distance Romney from the Ryan proposals, saying he’d have his own plan once elected, but his longstanding aversion to providing any specifics leaves the Ryan budget — now the Ryan-Romney budget — to fill the vacuum and provide Democrats a very inviting target for hard-hitting attack ads.
Ryan’s proposals call for cutting funding for social programs so deeply that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a national group of nuns have publicly criticized it as harmful to the neediest in society.
The National Jewish Democratic Council, a partisan group, noted that “A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.”
Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is one of the most conservative members of the Republican Caucus. The bishops and nuns may not like his plans to cut programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people,” but, unlike most Jewish voters, they do like his hardline views on abortion, gay marriage and reproductive rights.
Most damaging to the ticket may be his proposals to privatize Social Security, transform Medicare into a voucher system and turn Medicaid over to the states through block grants.
Democrats have dusted off their mantra and you’ll be hearing it a lot: Romney and Ryan want to “end Medicare as we know it.”
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee and is Jewish, said “families and seniors in my home state of Florida want no part of a Romney-Ryan economic scheme that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare.”
Imagine if George W. Bush had gotten his way in 2005 when he proposed privatizing Social Security by allowing contributors to put their money into the stock market instead of the government trust fund. Much of that money would have been lost when the Bush administration plunged the country into its deepest recession ever.
Social Security is the proverbial third rail of politics and Romney may have just stepped on it.
The Ryan-Romney budget calls for more tax cuts for millionaires like Romney and his fat-cat contributors while making Draconian cuts in federal spending on food safety, energy research, environmental protection, infrastructure, college tuition aid, food stamps, prescription drug coverage, workplace safety, women’s health coverage, consumer protection, product safety and the like.
Ryan could do more to keep Jewish voters in the Democratic column than any other single factor in this election. Republicans will try to avoid specifics about the impact of Romney-Ryan policies and they will tout Ryan’s courage in tackling tough fiscal issues like entitlements, but voters like their entitlements (not so much yours, but they like their own), and if they fear Ryan and Romney will take them away, they’ll vote Democratic. Again.
Jewish voters, with their strong affinity for programs serving the needy and the elderly, could be the first to punch the “no sale” button on the Romney-Ryan ticket.
©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/douglas_bloomfield
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