The Blame Game

It happens once in a blue moon, but I think Noam Scheiber is wrong. His thesis: In the event of a defeat, the Romney campaign believes the Paul Ryan pick acts as a sort of prophylactic for the candidate, by “shift[ing] blame for the loss onto the party’s conservative wing.” I have to believe the Romney camp is smart to know that’s not how it would play out.

The problem with this theory is, as Jon Chait explains, there is no “conservative wing.” That wing is now the whole bird:

In this sense, Ryan’s nomination represents an important historical marker and the completion of a 50-year struggle. Starting in the early sixties, conservative activists set out to seize control of the Republican Party. At the time the party was firmly in the hands of Establishmentarians who had made their peace with the New Deal, but the activists regarded the entire development of the modern regulatory and welfare states as a horrific assault on freedom bound to lead to imminent societal collapse. In fits and starts, the conservatives slowly advanced – nominating Goldwater, retreating under Nixon, nominating Reagan, retreating as Reagan sought to govern, and on and on through Gingrich, Bush, and his successors.

Over time the movement and the party have grown synonymous, and Ryan’s nomination represents a moment when the conservative movement ceased to control the politicians from behind the scenes and openly assumed the mantle of power.

So if Romney loses, Ryan won’t take the bullet. As with 2008, the scapegoat is going to be the guy at the top of the ticket, who conservatives already believe is at heart a liberal squish. Republicans will say they lost not because independents were turned off by the ticket’s crazy ideas but because “we nominated a moderate.” To believe otherwise would be an admission of failure on the part of the conservative project and the “intellectual leader of the Republican Party.” And I don’t see that happening any time soon.