Millennium Post

Troubleshooters versus a troublemaker

The US presidential race has become sharper after the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney picked Rep Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday. But their planned announcement was delayed by a memorial service for the Sikh temple victims in Ryan's home state, Wisconsin by a day. Ryan had visited India in 2006 and came back with a favorable impression.

The first thing for a presidential candidate is to show his decision-making capabilities and Romney has just done that. The second is to ensure a smooth national party convention scheduled for the end of the month.  The third is the presidential and vice presidential debates. These are the three important events that are crucial and can make or break the presidential race.

Now it is clear that the race is between President Obama and vice-president Joe Biden versus Romney and Ryan. Ryan started as a Capitol Hill intern and aide, went back to Janesville, and represented it for 14 years. He is a Washington insider. The Romney campaign is selling a point that these two men are kind of troubleshooters for the nation while Team Obama is a troublemaker.

The announcement came timely because Mitt Romney hasn’t had much luck over the past few weeks with the opinion polls showing a lead for President Obama.  Many Republican politicians expected Romney to make a safer pick, but his choice of Ryan makes him as bold as John McCain, who chose, in 2008, the Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. While she reinvigorated the Republicans, she was not experienced enough to handle her role. Romney has picked a candidate who has taken bold decisions on two very controversial issues – Medicare and Social Security. The risk is obvious because traditionally voters trust the Democrats more on these issues. Even some Republicans are apprehensive and fear that Romney might be taking too much of a gamble with this choice.

Strangely, the announcement has energised both the Obama and the Romney camps for different reasons. While the Romney campaign is happy that the decision has revitalised the conservatives in the party, as Ryan is seen as the ideologue, the Obama campaign is enthused that they have a great target in the Romney-Ryan duo on the Ryan plan. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan was the primary author of conservative tax and spending proposals that the Republican majority approved in 2011 and again in 2012. For President Obama and his fellow Democrats, Romney’s choice has opened up ways to divert focus from the President’s failure to provide jobs and the slumping economy to the Ryan’s plan that wants to transform the Medicare into a programme in which future seniors would be receiving government cheques that they could use to purchase health insurance. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. Romney has already distanced himself from the Ryan plan claiming he will come up with his own.

The weekend announcement has also changed the course of the campaign and given it a new direction. The Obama campaign had targeted Romney’s tax cut proposals, his being a rich guy and his outsourcing ideas, apart from his company Baines when he was the CEO. Romney has been attacking Obama on his economic performance and wanted to make the elections  a referendum on his failure to lead the country. Till now, both Romney and Obama have chosen to pour their energies into the earliest, largest and most negative attack-ad campaigns.

Some see the choice of Ryan similar to that of Joe Biden in 2008. Obama then needed to assure the political intelligentsia that he was a serious guy and needed someone who was strong in foreign policy. Biden was also the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.  Romney saw in Ryan a counter to Biden who is also a Catholic. The two teams now have a kind of generational balance. Ryan is only 42 and Romney 65.  In 2008, Obama was 47 and Biden 65.

Ryan also may have his minus points, as he may not persuade the suburban, middle class and Latino voters, senior citizens and women. Romney probably thinks that motivating his own conservative base is more important.

 What does Team Romney mean for India?  Both Romney and Ryan have no foreign policy experience compared to the Obama team. However, the Indo-US ties have grown so strong now that whoever comes will not matter, as both the teams know the importance of continuing and strengthening the ties further. The trade ties have also grown and so has the influence of the affluent Americans of Indian origin. During the 2008 Obama campaign there were apprehensions about Obama’s attitude towards India, but they were proved wrong as he visited India in his first term itself. The message coming out from both the teams are positive as far as India is concerned. The only thing is how their internal decisions may affect India. For instance, their views on Iran sanctions or the whole debate on outsourcing, or labour and environment issues, arrived at purely due to their domestic compulsion, may have some bearing on India. But, in general, it is clear that they want to have good relations with India.

The next 80 days are going to be trying days for both the camps. For the past four days the media is just telling the story of Ryan, who he is and what he represents, but the other voices have already started chiming in. The test for both the camps would be how to defend themselves and sustain the interest of the public and get the undecided voter to swing in their favour.
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