It’s hard to overstate the muddled message Republicans have had on Medicare since Paul Ryan joined the ticket last weekend. As soon as the announcement was official, Team Romney issued talking points distancing their nominee from Ryan’s budget, including his plan for Medicare. On Monday, however, Romnney took the opposite approach, telling crowds in Miami he was on the “same page” as Ryan.
I have a feeling that I’ll be writing this with some regularity over the next three months, but the Romney campaign has released a new, shamelessly dishonest ad attacking President Obama for the Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act:
Romney’s ad paints the Medicare cuts as some kind of theft—the money was meant for seniors, but Obama took it away to fund his “government takeover of health care.”
Republicans' pleasure over Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan for his running mate is tempered by their nervousness that Democrats will use Ryan's budget to hammer them on Medicare, particularly in Florida. And yes, they will. So how are Republicans going to respond? The answer is that they'll employ the time-honored "I know you are, but what am I?" strategy.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House Republicans' campaign arm, is sending out memos to its members telling them to, in the title of one, "Stay on offense on Medicare." And how do you do it? You say, we're not the ones who want to destroy Medicare, the Democrats are the ones who want to destroy Medicare! We're already hearing it from Romney and Ryan, and it'll be coming from all kinds of other places as well; here's the Heritage Foundation saying "Obamacare ends Medicare as we know it." (How? Because it's all governmenty.)
This kind of muddying of the waters has worked before...
Yesterday, President Obama went to Florida and told seniors that Mitt Romney wants to end Medicare as we know it, and it appears that this argument (and some related ones) will be a central feature of the Obama campaign's message in the coming days. It's entirely possible, as Jonathan Chait has suggested, that all the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's finances and record at Bain Capital are the first stage of a two-stage strategy that culminates with an attack on the Ryan budget. Since we'll be talking about this a lot soon, I thought it might be worthwhile to refresh our memories on what this is all about, particularly with regard to Medicare, and how it relates to the current campaign.
First: Is it fair to tar Mitt Romney with the Ryan plan? No question.
Today, House Budget Committee chairman and GOP heartthrob Paul Ryan will release his latest budget proposal, and all right-thinking Republicans will line up to express their support (you may remember what happened to Newt Gingrich in May when he criticized a previous version of Ryan's plan and was punished for his heresy, then quickly backtracked). And I have to say, Republicans deserve some credit for this. Not because their plan to privatize Medicare will actually be good for seniors (it won't) or for the budget (it won't). But because in the face of nearly inevitable political damage, they forge right on ahead.