Nate Silver’s post-Ryan announcement post strikes a plaintive note when he writes “I think there are other “bold” picks that Mr. Romney could have made — Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for instance, or Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada — where the balance of risk and reward would have been a little better.”
Let me see if I can restate that as a question: “Couldn’t Romney have picked someone with just a little more upside? Please?”
The answer is obviously no, or Romney – pragmatist that he is – would have done so. But why is the answer ‘no’?
My guess is that it comes down to what the Romney team believes about the base, how the base thinks, what the base wants, starting with “the base” being a unitary thing. Whether it really is or not, I don’t know. I don’t much like the caricature of the base as old white folks who live off resentment fueled by Fox News and talk radio. People are just more complicated than that when it comes to having them as friends or neighbors, and in the personal lives they lead.
However, all campaigns reduce potential voters to shorthand, and I suspect the shorthand for the base, from the Romney camp, is “Hates Obama, doubts our guy.” Ryan is supposed to plug the ‘doubts’ hole.
Out in the reality-based world, Ryan’s pronouncements on the deficit, and his budget plan, are rife with contradictions, exactly the sorts of things a canny politician like President Obama can exploit. But in the peculiar world of the base, Ryan does the essential job of embodying the fear people feel as our economic crisis goes on and on. He connects emotionally as a prophet of doom – a big theme in base world – and he offers strong medicine as the cure. Remember: a lot of people on the right believe that it’s the signal mark of adulthood to say no regardless of need or facts, and Ryan is the soul of ‘no.’
This is all craziness, but if you push people hard enough, long enough, it doesn’t feel crazy at all. It feels like the truth.
Call the above the necessary condition for getting and holding the Republican base. No candidate can deviate much, if at all, and not be branded ‘the other.’ Which brings us to Christie and Rubio, two men who – in reality-based world – have a somewhat greater appeal. And here’s my point: it is precisely those things which make Christie and Rubio and the rest more attractive to the rest of the electorate that make them non-starters with the base.
Christie is just at loose ends. He’s forever getting mad at someone, and going off to Bruce Springsteen concerts. For all that I disagree with him, there remains something unscripted and unpredictable about Christie. He’s constantly threatening to break out in humanity.
Rubio is a whole ‘nother challenge for the base. He is spot on when it comes to right wing values, but putting Rubio on the ticket would unavoidably bring up flash points – about immigration, the nature of America, etc. It’s stuff that’s buried deep, mostly, and not easily talked about. The good news for Rubio is that the next generation of Republican voters will see such things as a practical issue – it’ll be ‘How do we fix immigration?’ as opposed to ‘We’re facing an existential threat about our identity as a country.’ The bad news in 2012 was the base, as the Romney camp apparently saw it, couldn’t sort its feelings fast enough.