By Andrea Purse, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrea Purse is the Vice President for Communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The views expressed are her own.
On a Saturday morning in August, a hopeful conservative media reported gleefully about their apparent good fortune: a bright eyed, P90X –addicted, “ideas guy” would be the Republican vice presidential pick. Finally, they thought, this campaign had a visionary who would offer a bold alternative to what they saw as a failed Obama administration.
Mitt Romney had spent much of the primary campaign disconnecting himself from past policy positions and severing ties with his own personal experience. He ran away from his former positions on everything from health care to abortion to marriage equality. Governor Romney’s listless primary campaign never caught the imagination of conservative voters who considered choosing far right candidates – first Michele Bachmann, then Herman Cain, then Rick Santorum – in an effort to avoid picking Romney as their nominee. Ultimately, Romney captured the nomination by claiming the last seat at the end of a long and at times painful game of musical chairs – not because he had articulated a policy vision for the future of the country.
Hoping to redeem himself, the choice of Paul Ryan as running mate came at a time when Romney had just endured an embarrassing gaffe-filled international trip and his campaign had failed to pick up steam during a long summer. One would think that after offending one of America’s closest allies within hours of making landfall, the campaign would have thought to add some international heft to their ticket – but as the trip wound down it was clear that all Romney could do was just try and change the subject.
In the days that followed the lovely morning ceremony from the deck of the USS Wisconsin, the choice of Ryan forced the Romney campaign to either immediately stake out actual positions on key domestic policy pieces or accept being defined by default by Ryan’s existing plans. Romney, for his part, had already said his running mate’s plan was “marvelous” and that he was “very supportive of the Ryan budget plan.”
But when debates and analysis turned to the candidate’s actual policy plans, the shiny veneer of Paul Ryan, with his remarkably stellar marathon times, did not live up to the appeal the Romney campaign had counted on.
On Ryan’s biggest issue, Medicare, his plan to turn the senior citizen health care delivery system into a voucher program didn’t have the electoral punch he had hoped for. In Florida, where Romney spent no less than $44 million, voters in exit polls said that they rejected Ryan’s Medicare voucherization plan, saying they trusted Obama more (50 percent to 46 percent) when it came to managing Medicare.
And instead of championing job-creating solutions, Republicans were left to salivate over monthly employment numbers looking for any sign of weakness and expressing disappointment when the jobs picture continued to improve. They rooted against progress because they’d otherwise need to defend the Ryan budget – a plan that they recognized had absolutely no solutions to create jobs, and disinvested in crucial infrastructure investments that would spur job growth.
In fact, his budget’s promises to deliver real deficit reduction without doing away with tax breaks for big oil and the wealthiest Americans became a real liability when matched with Mitt’s rhetoric about writing off the other “47 percent of Americans.” Obama opened a 9 point lead in Ohio, the battleground state credited as the election’s decider, just after Romney matched up his rhetoric (albeit behind closed doors) with the reality of the Ryan plan. And when Ryan made a late October wade into the crucial economic issue of poverty, he went on to further demagogue the poor as government dependents despite the fact that Americans by a wide margin (63 percent to 32 percent) reject the “you’re on your own” economics that Ryan preaches.
Romney’s attempt to woo young voters (all comments about “borrowing money from your parents” notwithstanding) with a young, bright-eyed and in-shape running mate also fell flat on its face. The problem? Romney’s belief that young people don’t have the brains to realize that Ryan’s youthfulness won’t stop his call for massive cuts of up to 42 percent to Pell grants for needy students go into effect.
Romney and Ryan, both, for their parts have weighed in on "what went wrong" - blaming their failed ground game or, and this isn't a joke: Obama playing Santa Claus with minority voters and young people. When Republicans look back at this election, though, they have to admit that doubling down on all of the failed Bush-era economic principles didn’t serve Romney or Ryan well in this election, and under any real discernment, doesn’t pass the smell test for improving our country.