Delegates to the Republican national convention will adopt a platform on Tuesday that represents a major triumph for the economic and social conservatives that make up the party’s activist base. The final document, which includes calls to radically transform every entitlement program, moves the party well to the right of where it stood four years ago.
Standard-bearer Mitt Romney has already begun distancing himself from some of the more controversial elements of the document, such as the call to ban abortion under all circumstances, including pregnancies that result from rape or incest. But he has largely embraced many of the platform’s controversial economic planks, such as turning Medicare into a premium support program, establishing private accounts for Social Security and making sweeping changes in the tax code that analysts say would provide most of its benefits to the nation’s richest families.
While he endorsed those planks in phrases that leave him plenty of wiggle room as the campaign unfolds, Democrats and the Super PACs that support them are already highlighting those platform elements in campaign ads in key swing states. That could undermine the carefully crafted image that Romney hopes to present to voters this week and for the remainder of the campaign: That his business experience makes him the Mr. Fix-It that the economy needs.
“Romney is taking a big gamble,” said Norm Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “The platform gets in the way of his moving to the center. The more (people) focus on the platform, the less he’s able to focus on redefining his campaign.”
The political task for Romney is straightforward. For most of the first half of the year, he catered to the most conservative elements in the country to win Republican primaries. Then he absorbed a summer of withering attacks by President Obama for his role as a “job destroyer” at Bain Capital. The convention script recasts the former Massachusetts governor as a centrist problem solver who will create jobs. Fence-sitting voters in the handful of states where the election will be decided – though a shrinking share of a polarized electorate – will likely cast their ballots for the candidate they think is best suited to get the nation’s economy moving again.
In any year when the workforce is suffering through an 8 percent-plus unemployment rate, projecting that message should not be a problem. And Romney, like his opponent, will have hundreds of millions of dollars to pour into ads in the final months of the campaign to get that message across, which will be supplemented with hundreds of millions more spent by Republican-leaning Super PACs, which have outraised Obama-leaning Super PACs by a 3-to-1 margin.
As Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom put it last March: “Everything changes” after the candidate gets the nomination. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again. The problem now, though, is that the platform writers threw a monkey wrench into the Etch a Sketch machine.
The candidate began the process with his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate. The Congressman from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee has authored three plans to turn Medicare over to private insurance companies while fixing the amount the government will give future seniors to buy those plans. Ryan’s latest effort modified his earlier plan, which would require future seniors (those under 55 years old now) to pick up nearly two-thirds of their health care costs, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis.
While Romney has not said which of those plans he would back – he has endorsed the general concept as the best way to rein in government spending when health care costs spiral upwards, as they inevitably will with the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. The platform also endorsed that approach.