One of the most entertaining scenes of the seemingly endless Republican primary debate season was Juan Williams’s “food stamp president” question to Newt Gingrich, which Gingrich handled as Manny Ramirez used to handle unprepared pitchers: bait them into throwing the pitch he wanted, hit it out of the park, and give the pitcher a good stare-down as he began to round the bases.
It typified the reason many conservatives wanted to take on President Obama with Gingrich—namely, his ability to effectively challenge the premise of a question and change the conversation. This is a useful skill because the mainstream political press will always seek to force conservatives to play by whatever rules are most advantageous to the liberal establishment, and Gingrich was able to set his own rules, to an extent. But people tend to forget the rules automatically change during a presidential general election: the exposure nominees get, through public appearances, speeches, rallies, and debates, gives candidates an ability to speak over the din of the media and directly to the American people. It raises the volume.
Which is why the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate may make it more difficult—despite what liberals think—to tag Romney with Ryan’s budget as they seek to depict it. Joining the ticket means Ryan will be at full volume, speaking directly to the voters. A poll last week found popular support for Ryan’s budget after it was described in positive terms. If Ryan has the chance to frame the debate about his budget, Democrats may find the Obama campaign’s demagoguery less effective than they think.
Some on the left are sensing this already. Here’s William Saletan on the supposed poll-tested unpopularity of entitlement reform:
So what? Screw the polls. Republicans will be on the right side of the spending debate. They’ll be on the right side of the substance debate, too. Instead of bickering about Romney’s tax returns and repeating the obvious but unhelpful observation that the unemployment rate sucks, we’ll actually have to debate serious problems and solutions. That’s great for the country.
I’d adjust that second sentence slightly: Change the polls. That’s what Ryan will seek to do with the new platform Romney has given him. Ryan has already shown his effectiveness as a spokesman for serious reform. Now he’ll be at full volume.