The addition of Rep. Paul Ryan to the Romney ticket was supposed to be a pivot point of the 2012 election. Team Romney had lost the summer; had let the Obama campaign define the former governor as a job-offshoring, gleefully-firing-people plutocrat. The Referendum Strategy — “The economy is bad; vote for me” — wasn’t getting the job done. And so Mitt Romney decided to go bold, take a risk, shake up the race.
I half-hoped that this version of events was true. The winner of a campaign that was actually about something, I reasoned, might have a stronger hand in breaking the stalemate in Congress next year. At the very least, such a campaign would be more interesting to cover. And then …
… Paul Ryan quickly receded to the background. He became a nonfactor. The Romney campaign distanced itself from the Ryan budget and cleverly attempted to muddle the debate over Medicare reform. Instead of the “sharp ideological contrast” many conservatives were hoping for, we got “Medicare jujitsu.” Ryan did deliver an effective convention speech in Tampa — yet it was a speech, as Ross Douthat noted at the time, that was long on pitbull and short on policy.
And then …
… the “secret video” surfaced. A candid Mitt Romney was caught disparaging nearly half the electorate as an unreachable mass of parasites. Plenty of conservatives responded with a cocktail of disappointment and disgust. Seemingly just as many conservatives responded with something like glee. The moment of the Sharp Ideological Contrast had arrived. Finally, they thought, Mitt Romney has been forced into the substantive debate about the size of government and citizen dependency that he’d conspicuously avoided all year.
That this group of conservatives — from the ranks of RedState.com and the Breitbart alt-media empire — were among Romney’s most dogged opponents during the primary has no doubt given him pause: Should he really trust the faction of the right that resisted his candidacy so noisily? Do they have his best interests at heart? Or are they spoiling for a fight that they’re too addled to realize is unwinnable?
Erick Erickson has effectively assumed the driver’s seat of the Romney campaign.
This is supposed to be a good thing.