Finding Privatizer Ryan 

If Romney loses, blame his running mate

Unless something surprising and dramatic happens, President Barack Obama will win the election. The Associated Press recently released an analysis of public and private polls that puts him "within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term." Obama is running ahead in many swing states, including Ohio--a necessity for a GOP candidate.

What went wrong with the Mitt Romney campaign? All things being equal, this should have been a cakewalk for Romney. The economy is still awful. Since Obama hasn't promised any big jobs programs, neither Hope nor Change is on offer. And Romney had a sales pitch tailored for hard times: He turned around companies; his business experience would help him turn around the economy.

This election was Romney's to lose--and apparently he has. The cause can be summed up in two words: Paul Ryan.

Sure, there were plenty of other missteps. His bizarre "47 percent" remark turned out to be a game changer that alienated swing voters.

Though greeted by Very Serious pundits as a canny combination of intellectual heft and Tea Party cred, the selection of running mate Ryan has been a bigger disaster than Sarah Palin in 2008.

As Paul Krugman pointed out in The New York Times, the selection is beginning to shape up as a referendum on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy. Which is Ryan's fault.

Before the veep announcement, the campaign was a referendum on Obama's stewardship over the economy. Which was good for Romney. Since August, it has been about Ryan, known for his plan to trash entitlement programs. Misfire! The one time you don't attack the safety net is when people are feeling squeezed and pessimistic about the future.

Sensing resistance, Republicans walked back Ryan's extreme agenda using the classic "divide and conquer" approach, guaranteeing that people older than 55 would keep their Medicare and Social Security. No sale. Romney-Ryan forgot something: Senior citizens have children and grandchildren.

The Romney--Ryan campaign understood that voters were pissed at Obama. But they didn't understand why.

There were two types of anger against Obama. Right-wingers hate the president for growing an intrusive federal government. But there is also liberal resentment at Obama's refusal to help the jobless and foreclosure victims. Romney could have seduced these voters with his own plans to help the sick and poor. Instead, he went with Ryan and frightened disgruntled Democrats back into Obama's camp.

Romney ignored the time-tested tactic of moving to the center after winning a party's nomination. He needed to appeal to Democrats and swing voters. Choosing Ryan sent the opposite signal.

This isn't to say Obama will have an easy second term. Unlike 2008, when the majority of Americans felt they had made the right choice, Obama is only likeable enough compared to Romney. The only reason Obama seems headed to victory is that he was lucky enough to run against one of the most staggeringly inept campaigns in memory, headed by an unbelievably tone-deaf plutocrat.

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