Romney's Veep Choice: Paul Ryan, Koch Ally and 'Right-Wing Social Engineer'

This piece has been updated.

It's official: The Republican Party is now officially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers' political enterprise. How else to explain Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan, Wis., as his running mate. Yes, that Paul Ryan -- chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the infamous Ryan roadmap budget plan, which promises to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system, and yank health care from millions of children whose parents happen to be poor. And that's just the beginning. In addition to a raft of cuts, the Ryan plan would end the Earned Income Tax Credit, which millions of parents count on.

It's a plan that even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich deemed too "radical." Asked by NBC's David Gregory to respond to Ryan's proposal, Gingrich famously said (video): "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate." (Of course that was before Gingrich walked back those remarks, apparently reminded by some savvy operative that he might not want to anger the Kochs, to whom Ryan, 42, is something of a youthful ward, having been the beneficiary of years of support from the Koch-founded Americans For Prosperity.) 

In case anyone should miss the point that Ryan is a very Kochy guy, Romney did his big reveal of running-mate Ryan this morning aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin, a decommisioned ship docked in the all-important swing state of Virginia. However important Virginia is to the electoral math, Wisconsin is a highly symbolic icon for the Tea Party. It's not only Ryan's home state; it's the poster state of right-wing triumph, the place where Gov. Scott Walker successfully fended off a recall attempt made by progressives in response to a bill he rammed through the state legislature that all but ended collective bargaining for the state's public employees. Much of the credit for Wisconsin's right turn goes to Americans For Prosperity, which boasts a particularly aggressive Wisconsin chapter, which began building a network of activists there in 2005. 

Ryan's association with the group goes back almost that far. In 2008, he was granted the Wisconsin AFP chapter's "Defending the American Dream" award, handed to him by a young county executive who served as emcee for those festivities -- a guy named Scott Walker. Since then, he has made countless appearances on the group's behalf, at anti-health-care reform rallies on Capitol Hill, on conference town halls across the country and at Americans For Prosperity and Americans For Prosperity Foundation events. (Just enter Ryan's name into the search engine on the Amerians For Prosperity Web site, and you'll come up with eight pages of citations.) In fact, Ryan was due to speak at last week's conference sponsored by the AFP Foundation in Washington, D.C., forcing increased speculation about his running-mate prospects when he failed to show.

For Romney, the pluses in picking Ryan are these: the Tea Partiers, who are less than wild about Mittens, really love them some Paul Ryan -- as does David Koch, who will be seated as a Romney delegate at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Koch and his brother, Charles -- the multibillionaire owners of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held corporation in the U.S. -- are major donors, not only to political candidates, but to a range of right-wing think tanks and groups. In the post-Citizens United world, those donations add up to millions in political advertisements by all manner of non-profit groups. Already, Americans For Prosperity has made a $27 million air-time buy for running anti-Obama ads.

Romney already owes some of his success in the primary season to the Kochs' favorite politicians in Wisconsin. Remember Rick Santorum? Right-wing base types -- Christian evangelicals and Tea Partiers -- just loved him. He was giving Romney a whole lotta agita during the primaries -- first stealing Romney's reported win in the Iowa caucuses back from the Mittster in a recount, and nearly besting Romney in Michigan, where Romney grew up. 

In the weeks leading up to the Wisconsin primary, Santorum was running double-digits ahead of Romney. But then Paul Ryan endorsed Romney, and so did the Koch-bought U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. When Ryan began campaigning with Romney in the final days of the campaign, the crowds at Romney events seemed to swell. While conventional wisdom holds that endorsements don't amount to a hill of beans, conventional wisdom had an epic #FAIL on Wisconsin's primary night, when 60 percent of those responding in exit polls said that Romney's endorsers influenced their vote. (Romney also won the endorsements of a number of Americans For Prosperity-backed state legislators.)

But Romney's Ryan pick is not without its minuses, the largest one being running with a guy who has promised to end Medicare and replace it with something else entirely that could wind up costing seniors big-time. Don't be fooled by the fact that Ryan calls his voucher-health-care system for seniors "Medicare". That's just a trick -- like an employer who promises you dental coverage that amounts to a coupon for a discount on a visit to your favorite dentist. As Raw Story's Sahil Kahur noted last year, under Ryan's Not-Medicare "Medicare" plan, seniors would pay significantly more for their health care, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office: 

Specifically, by 2030, seniors under the GOP’s transformed program would pay 68 percent of what they’d pay in the private market — up from 25 percent in the status quo scenario.

Of course, photos of the children who would lose health care under the Ryan plan would probably not play well for Romney, either. Democracy Corps, the polling outfit run by Stan Greenberg and James Carville, found Ryan budget to be a drag on Romney's prospects for moving swing voters into his column. (Greenberg refers to the key Obama coalition of unmarried women, youth, and minority voters as the "Rising American Electorate.) From their latest memo, issued in July:

The Ryan budget’s impact on the most vulnerable is powerful among key swing voters, including unmarried women, who shifted a net 10 points toward Obama, the Rising American Electorate (net 3-point shift), and independents (net 9-point shift). Even conservatives were swayed, shifting a net 13 points toward Obama.

Among those who heard an even split of facts about the Ryan budget – including ones about cuts to programs aimed to help mostly lower and working class families – the shift is even more pronounced. With this group of voters, Obama leads Romney by 9 points, 52 to 43 percent, the largest margin of any of the groups in our experiment. It’s clear that focusing on what the Ryan budget does to the most vulnerable Americans can pay dividends for Obama.

Looks like the Koch brothers are going to have to throw a whole lot of money at this thing to make it work for them. But we know they've got plenty of that.


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