Critics of Ryan’s budget proposals will seize on a defeat to claim that it was his entitlement reform proposals that ended up costing the ticket in important states. There may be exit polling that supports that interpretation. Others will insist that entitlement reform wasn’t the problem, but rather the campaign’s cynical attempt to have things both ways by demagoguing changes to Medicare while proposing even greater changes of their own. Some Republicans will be able to cite the news of the last week to prove that the most damaging blunders that the campaign made all year were the result of mindlessly repeating ideological fictions (e.g., “apology tour,” that 47% don’t pay taxes and are therefore government dependents), and there will be some truth to that, too. The campaign has been such a confused mess and has tried to be so many different, mutually contradictory things at once that each interpretation will have some merit, which suggests that there will be little or no consensus on “what went wrong.”
Frum has argued all year long that running on the Ryan plan was a mistake. He chided Romney for supporting it earlier in the year, and he did so again after Ryan was named as the running mate. When Romney selected Ryan, the ticket was inevitably linked with the Ryan plan whether or not Romney or Ryan ever talked about it publicly. However, Romney and Ryan have avoided talking about it, and there isn’t much evidence to suggest that Romney-Ryan is failing because of their association with the plan.
The assumption among most supporters and critics of the Ryan selection was that adding Ryan to the ticket was a choice intended to send an ideological message. It was supposed to be an attempt to make the election a choice between two sharply contrasted visions. This is what Ryanmaniacs said they wanted all along. This was what Ryan skeptics feared or at least thought would be a political mistake. As it turned out, the sharp ideological contrast didn’t happen, and instead Romney and Ryan reverted to Republican tactics from 2010 by posing as defenders of the Medicare status quo for current beneficiaries. Frum argues that Romney has been turned into a “candidate of the ultra-right,” but the Romney campaign has been so aimless and lacking in ideas most of the time that many movement conservatives will never accept that interpretation.