Who Is Mitt Romney?

By Cassidy, John | The New Yorker, August 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Who Is Mitt Romney?


Cassidy, John, The New Yorker


When the Republican Party grandees and delegates gather in Tampa next week for their quadrennial Convention, attention will inevitably focus on Paul Ryan, the man Mitt Romney has chosen as his running mate. Ryan has been getting accustomed to the rigors of Presidential campaigning: protesters heckling him at the Iowa State Fair; reporters questioning him about his controversial proposals for Medicare; unnamed Republican operatives whispering to the press that his selection spells doom for the Party. At forty-two, Ryan isn't the youngest Vice-Presidential candidate in modern times--Dan Quayle, in 1988, was a year younger--but he is one of the most surprising.

Until Romney picked Ryan, the principal rationale for his candidacy had been that he was a practical businessman who could appeal to independents and get the economy moving. Now Romney has tethered himself to a conservative ideologue who serves in an institution, the House of Representatives, that, according to the latest Gallup poll, has an approval rating of ten per cent. Such an abrupt reversal smacks of desperation. Not a Hail Mary pass, exactly, but akin to a struggling N.F.L. team that suddenly decides to adopt the wildcat formation and rely on fakery.

Ryan, whatever one thinks of his views, is a politician of clarity. The scion of a well-to-do Wisconsin family, he arrived in Washington at the age of twenty-one and has been there ever since. He worked for Jack Kemp's Empower America pressure group; he was elected to Congress when he was twenty-eight and moved up the ranks by staking out a position as a budget expert. He is a village explainer rather than a Michele Bachmann-style ranter, but his rapid rise nonetheless encapsulates the radicalization of the Republican Party. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he has presented a vision that includes turning Medicare into a voucher program, shrinking non-defense discretionary spending to less than three per cent of G.D.P. (about a quarter of its current level) by 2030, and eliminating all taxes on dividends, capital gains, and inheritances--practically the only taxes that some people of great wealth, such as Romney, actually pay. On non-economic issues, such as abortion and gun control, Ryan has a voting record that puts him in the same camp as Bachmann and other ultra-conservatives.

How much of the Ryan agenda does Romney endorse? For somebody who was once regarded as a moderate, the answer is a surprising amount. Take Medicare. Romney's campaign Web site says that, after a transition period during which the current system would remain in place, Romney would take the retirement health plan's budget and use it to pay "a fixed-amount benefit to each senior that he or she can use to purchase an insurance plan." That's another way of saying that he would convert Medicare to a Ryanesque voucher system.

On taxes and spending, Romney doesn't go as far as Ryan, but his budget plan is informed by the same school of supply-side economics that Ryan has promoted since his days with Kemp. …

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