Entitlements? What Entitlements?

One way the Romney campaign may decide to cope with the controversy aroused by the choice of Paul Ryan is to pretend he’s been selected for qualities other than those universally associated with him, and changes absolutely nothing about the GOP strategy and message. I got a taste of this yesterday when doing a radio show in which the relentlessly on-message Jennifer Rubin insisted Paul Ryan’s all about jobs-jobs-jobs and not “entitlement reform.” Now comes the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York with a peculiar piece from the campaign trail approvingly citing Ryan’s total self-effacement:

On Monday afternoon, in his first solo appearance as Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., answered a question troubling more than a few Republican strategists: Will his campaign be more about the Romney plan for the economy, or the Ryan budget?

The answer is the Romney plan. In a speech before a rowdy crowd at the Iowa State Fair — one that included some loud and determined hecklers — Ryan stuck to the message of jobs, jobs, jobs. In about 12 minutes of high-energy remarks, the words “Medicare” and “entitlements” didn’t even come up. Although press coverage focused mostly on the heckling and not what Ryan actually said, the new candidate was all about creating jobs and restoring prosperity, and not about reforming entitlements.

Now York is enough of a reporter that he couldn’t resist an off-message observation about Ryan’s tack:

If that continues, we might see a campaign in which both Republican candidates seek to downplay their signature achievements — Romney downplaying his Massachusetts universal health care program, and Ryan downplaying the Ryan budget.

The difference is that Mitt Romney spent the better part of five years running away from his record in Massachusetts, backed by vast resources and (at least in the current cycle) shrewdly exploiting the abundant weaknesses of GOP presidential rivalries. Until, well, right now, if Paul Ryan was known for anything other than his budget plan, it was for such equally unhelpful qualities like his fondness for Ayn Rand, his role in pushing George W. Bush into a politically disastrous Social Security privatization proposal, and his unusually hard-core views on cultural issues like abortion.

I suppose the phenomenon of choosing to elevate Paul Ryan to the national ticket and then pretending he’s there because of his “youthful energy” or his residency in a battleground state or his bright blue eyes could represent nothing more than a heavy-handed effort to give “the base” what it wants while counting on general public ignorance of Ryan’s record to keep him relatively noncontroversial. But let’s remember that Romney had already more or less signed a blood pledge to enact Ryan’s budget. Making its author your running-mate is not the ideal way to distract attention from that fact. I have a hard timing imagining it will work.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.