Monday, August 20, 2012

Obama Campagin Drops the Ball on Medicare

After Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, Barack Obama's campaign strategy was clear: Demonize Ryan by publicizing the unpopular elements of the Ryan Plan and accuse
Romney/Ryan of attempting to cut Medicare. Obama's campaign was aware of the importance of this strategy ever since the possibility of a Ryan VP selection first arose, some months ago.

However, Obama has so far failed to effectively execute it. Instead, the Romney campaign opened up with a preemptive counter-attack, criticizing Obamacare for cutting some $700 billion from Medicare. The technical details of how Obamacare shuffles money around (including from Medicare) to pay for various additional and replacement programs are obscure. Do voters truly fear a Democratic president (one attacked as a liberal, no less) will cut Medicare? No. But the advantages of Ryan's preemptive attack are significant: Obamacare is unpopular, and it's much easier to articulate "Obamacare cuts $700 billion from Medicare" than to articulate the explanation for why this isn't the case.

More importantly, the Romney campaign does not need to convince voters that Obama wants to cut Medicare; they only need to fight Obama to a draw on the issue. If "Mediscare" is a draw between the Republican and the Democrat, it is the same as a victory for the Republican, since Medicare is a Ryan weakness and traditionally a Democratic strength. As an analogy, imagine if Obama were able to fight Romney to a draw on the issue of the economy. Certainly that "draw" would be a victory for Obama.

Why did the Obama campaign find itself so flat-footed on an obvious issue? Part of the explanation must be that they did not see Ryan as a serious VP possibility. They may have already begun opposition research and negative ads centered around more likely picks, such as Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, or even Marco Rubio. When Ryan was chosen, it came as a surprise, and they were caught unprepared.

Even so, the element of surprise cannot entirely account for how badly Obama fumbled. The Obama campaign, relative to the Romney/Ryan campaign, is less capable than it first appeared. Elephant Watcher has recalculated the odds and determined that Obama's odds of winning the presidency have diminished slightly.

Should Romney be celebrating a victory? Not yet. Even when a line of attack is botched or effectively countered, it can still reappear later on, when the stakes are higher. For example, the attacks against Bain Capital appeared ineffective when they were first launched earlier this summer, but they returned. The Ryan Plan and "Mediscare" are bound to return later in the campaign.