Memo to Americans: This presidential race is over. Turn off the TV, stow the voter ID, buy that Obama bumper sticker. Mitt Romney has lost.
Really, why go through 80 more days of the campaign, when the piercing conclusion of the Washington press corps, the Republican establishment and the Democratic Party is that Mr. Romney committed public suicide in choosing Paul Ryan? After all, these political pros know things.
They know Republican lose when they talk about entitlements. They know that’s because Americans will trust only Democrats with Medicare and Social Security. They know the left is crack-happy with the Ryan pick. They know all this because somebody told them so a long time ago, and their job is to keep repeating things they’ve been told.
So in thrall is the Beltway crowd to its received beliefs that it has missed this (minor) point: America looks nothing like it did even four years ago. The political landscape has been upended. And that is why Republicans can win this year.
As they have been winning. Those who insist the GOP loses when it talks entitlements have yet to explain Mr. Ryan. True fact: You can’t be the House Budget chairman without having won an election. That’s what Mr. Ryan has done, seven times, in a competitive Wisconsin district that contains senior citizens, independents and party moderates—and that voted Obama in 2008.
Save for his first run, he’s never earned less than 63% of the vote. And he’s done that by taking the entitlement fight to his opponents.
Ah, say the pros, but even Mr. Ryan couldn’t win an oldster state like Florida. Senior citizens will flip out. So they said in 2010, when Marco Rubio, in a debate with opponent Charlie Crist, suggested raising the retirement age and altering benefits to preserve Social Security. “Rubio just lost Florida!” screamed the Twitterverse.
Well, Sen. Marco Rubio is still talking about entitlement reform today. As are Republican Sens. Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey and Rob Portman, who beat Mediscare in swing states in 2010. As are dozens of House freshmen who ran on Mr. Ryan’s budget.
They won because something fundamental has changed in the electorate. Our country has been through recessions before. What it has not experienced is an administration that used an economic slowdown to spend America into a debt crisis. The debt numbers are today so extreme ($16 trillion, 70% of GDP), the consequences so real (credit downgrades, default), that voters are scared.
Add to this the creeping nearness of an entitlement explosion. Social Security payouts already exceed revenue. Medicare could be bankrupt in eight years. In a 2011 Gallup poll, 67% of Americans agreed that Social Security and Medicare would create a financial crisis within a decade. Voters are willing to have this debate.
Then there’s the other dramatic political change, more recent: Voters for the first time have an honest entitlement choice. Democrats have for years claimed that the choice was between the status quo and GOP cuts. Then they passed ObamaCare. In doing so, they put themselves on record with their real plans for Medicare.
The president’s Affordable Care Act uses Medicare as a piggy bank, stripping today’s program of $716 billion. And the law’s way of dealing with the ensuing Medicare shortages is to empower a group of 15 individuals to make decisions on what medical services will need to be cut. So how does the Democratic Party intend to fix Medicare? Cut Medicare dollars, ration care. Now we know.
It is this Obama Medicare plan—not the status quo—that Republicans are running against. It is against this that they are contrasting Mr. Romney’s proposal to restore that $716 billion, to preserve existing benefits for those 55 and above, and to give younger Americans more options and continued quality care.
There is only one candidate gutting Medicare today: Mr. Obama. There is only one candidate who will preserve Medicare for future generations: Mr. Romney. That comparison is striking, and it blows up conventional wisdom.
In a Rasmussen survey this week, Florida voters were asked, “When it comes to the future of Medicare, which scares you more: President Obama’s health-care law or Paul Ryan’s proposal?” By 48% to 41%, Floridians were more scared of Mr. Obama’s $716 billion cut. And Floridians age 65 and up? By 54% to 34%—a 20 percentage-point difference—Florida seniors feared most an Obama future.
Democrats may not have good ideas, but they aren’t blind. They’ve felt the shifting landscape, lived through 2010, and they understand the threat of a bold reform politician.
That’s why Mr. Obama has personally spent such time the past two years publicly working to isolate and discredit Mr. Ryan. He’s not thrilled by the Ryan pick, oh no. He fears it.
This fear, this fundamentally changed political landscape, does not guarantee a Republican victory. But what it does promise is that if the Romney-Ryan ticket stays on offense—if it can fight to a draw on entitlements and leverage the powerful economic argument—then it has every shot at the White House.