By Elvin Lim
In our fast-paced world where candidates throw everything but the sink at television and Internet audiences to see what sticks, Mitt Romney made a particularly gutsy move last week by adopting Medicare in his fight against Obama and Obamacare. Together with the selection of Paul Ryan as VP candidate, this was a game change revealing that Team Romney is going straight for demographics in this home stretch of the campaign.
For months, the Romney team has tried to make the election a referendum on Obama’s first term. They believe they have failed, in large part due to the Obama campaign’s very successful negative campaign on Romney’s tax returns and record with Bain. They now know that an unemployment rate hovering above 8% is the new normal and they need to be more aggressive to get through Obama’s Teflon hide.
The Medicare strategy is clearly targeted at states with an older population. It is a strategy made for Florida and Pennsylvania. The Paul Ryan pick, on the other hand, will not only help Romney in Wisconsin, but with young voters. If Romney can erode Obama’s popularity among the young, especially those between 18 and 24, and secure the support of the older in Florida, he may have a way to 270.
But as all game changers are, these are high risk strategies, very much like John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin. Most Americans trust the Democrats more on Medicare than the Republicans. More importantly, most Republicans don’t know how to talk about Medicare. It is a convoluted argument indeed to lament that America is becoming an entitlement state while at the same time say that Romney would protect the entitlements of those above 55 (unlike Obama). Yet this is a problem surmountable with enough campaign advertisements which we know Team Romney can afford. A deeper challenge remains, however. Paul Ryan is young and likeable, but as we know from 2008, it isn’t easy to transfer charm upwards from the second person on the ticket.
Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-Intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears on the OUPblog regularly.