Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer and William Kristol is the editor of The Weekly Standard.
In an interview on March 22, two weeks before Mitt Romney would win the Wisconsin primary and effectively end the race for the Republican nomination, Milwaukee talk radio host Charlie Sykes asked about his embrace of Paul Ryan's budget.
"One of the things that the White House is also focusing on is dropping everything that they have on the Paul Ryan budget plan — the Democrats, the media, the White House — all piling up on the Ryan budget plan," Sykes said to Romney. "You have embraced that plan. You've endorsed that plan. The Democrats think that the Republicans have handed them a weapon because they're now going to say that you conservative Republicans, you want to balance the budget on the backs of the frail, the elderly and the poor. How will you respond to that?"
Romney answered, first, by arguing that Democrats had not earned the moral authority to make such arguments. "Well, we'd love to see how they plan on reducing the deficit and balancing the budget," he began. "So far, we've had — what? — three straight years without the Senate putting in place a budget? We have a president in the same party as the leaders in the Senate. Can't they put together their plan? At least the Republicans first of all have put together a plan. So it strikes me that before the Democrats can attack Republicans for a plan they have to put one of their own out."
Romney then turned to substance. "Secondly," he said, "the Ryan plan does not balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. It instead preserves Medicare and preserves Social Security. It's the president's lack of plan and lack of proposals for Social Security and Medicare that threaten their long-term solvency. So we're happy to debate on issues. The president will do everything in his power to try to hide from his record but we're going to talk about issues and his record and I think that's why he's in tough shape right now."
It was a clear and unequivocal defense of Ryan's entitlement reforms. No hedging, no qualification. Romney didn't challenge the assertion that he'd "embraced" and "endorsed" Ryan's budget. Instead, he countered the attacks by pointing out that the Democrats have abdicated leadership on entitlements even as they drive us further and faster toward a debt crisis. (Ryan's budget did not actually include Social Security reforms, but his previous reform blueprints have.)
We have thought about this interview more than once over the past few days, as Republicans — and others — have debated the wisdom of Romney choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate. While the prospect of a Romney-Ryan ticket has generated considerable enthusiasm among conservatives, it has also occasioned predictable hand wringing. The two main objections seem to be: 1) choosing Ryan would place the Ryan budget at the center of the presidential election for the final two months of the race; and, 2) adding Ryan would wreck Romney's careful efforts to maintain a comfortable distance from Ryan's entitlement reforms. The first point is true but not convincing. The second is false.
We'll start with number two. Last weekend, Politico reported: "A senior Romney adviser told the traveling press corps late last week that Romney still does not agree with the Medicare cuts in the Ryan budget, a fact that would be explored at length if the Wisconsin congressman were to be on the ticket. He would end up discussing that budget plan rather frequently, a fight Democrats would be eager for." And, on Wednesday, a second article in Politico quoted Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio saying that while there were positives and negatives to choosing Ryan, "Romney has been very careful not to embrace the Medicare cuts in the Ryan budget."
These claims are just wrong. Romney has praised Ryan's budget without qualification. Furthermore, Romney's Medicare reform proposal is almost identical to the Ryan-Wyden plan, the latest version of Medicare reform from Ryan. Don't take our word for it. Here is one rather authoritative analysis of Romney's proposal, written in response to the question: "How is this different from the Ryan plan?" The answer: "Shortly after Mitt presented the proposal described here, Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Wyden introduced a bipartisan proposal that almost precisely mirror's Mitt's ideas." That comes from the Romney for President website. Romney's "senior adviser" might give it a look.
What of the first objection — that a Romney-Ryan ticket would place the Ryan budget at the center of the 2012 elections at precisely the time voters will be paying closest attention? Our answer: It' s too late to stop that from happening. And: So what?
The Ryan budget will be at the center of the 2012 election no matter whom Romney picks. Democratic strategist Joe Trippi told The Weekly Standard that his party plans to spend much of October talking about the Ryan budget. Paul Begala, who is advising Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC, told the Huffington Post the same thing. This should surprise no one. Democrats have for months been calling Romney's plan the "Romney-Ryan" budget in their talking points. And Democratic candidates across the country have been demagoguing the Ryan budget for two years.