Are Romney’s Welfare Attacks a Prelude to Paul Ryan for VP?

Mitt Romney may be making welfare attacks against President Barack Obama to set the stage for announcing Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.

By + More
House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, the newly-announced running mate of Mitt Romney.

Here's an interesting theory a politically smart friend floated for me on why Mitt Romney's campaign has decided to launch a (false) welfare-focused attack on the Obama administration this week: It's a setup for tapping House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate.

The theory goes that nominating Ryan will bring his controversial budget front and center. But painting Obama as the welfare president, intent on simply sending out government checks to lazy welfare queens, sets up a bulwark against charges that Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, is a heartless miser whose proposed budget would leave the social safety net in tatters. The gamble would be that swing voters unhappy about the state of the economy and, most especially those toiling in blue collared shirts, will be more likely to side with Romney-Ryan if the budget debate is framed as being between free-money-for-lazy-parasites versus tough-but-necessary budget cuts. And it would also have the salutary effect of shifting the Ryan budget debate away from his scheme to replace Medicare with a voucher program of the same name.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

It's an interesting theory, though I'm not sure I buy it. The political logic for Romney selecting Ryan would be that Mittens still feels like he needs to shore up his support with his base, which has a collective man-crush on Ryan. And since Romney has embraced the Ryan budget he gets that baggage anyway—he might as well maximize the upside. But the Ryan budget has many more details than the opaque Romney campaign has let out over the last few months. It would fly in the face of their efforts to run a blank slate against an unpopular incumbent. And vice presidential nominees tend to have previously won at a statewide level.

All that said, there may be something to the idea of using this as a wedge to reframe the budget debate—the idea of destroying Medicare hits voters where they live whereas, for many swing voters especially, welfare programs affect "others," and a variety of others who might be getting free money during tough economic times.

Does this mean that Romney-Ryan is in the offing? We'll find out—possibly as soon as this weekend. In the mean time weigh in with your thoughts below.

  • Read Ford O'Connell: It's Time for Romney to Counter Obama's Attacks
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.