Everything changed in the campaign. Paul Ryan changed everything. A sea change and a land change. Our bodies are heavy and made of metal. (The factory up the road donates it to the groundwater.) Parents no longer recognize their own children. Maybe it is no longer possible to blog.
Or so you've been told. The story since Saturday is that Mitt Romney's naming Paul Ryan as his running mate changed this presidential race. That's true. To start with, last week there were only three people officially in the race. Now there are four. That's one more, and you can measure that.
And that's probably where we should stop measuring the change, too.
Here is the #1 reason why you've seen and will continue to see people say that Paul Ryan changed this election: journalists are very bored. Even with leavening elements like jetskis, a Mr. Bean tour of England and sounding like a half-assed eugenicist about Palestine, Mitt Romney is an essentially boring man. Writing about him day after day withers the spirit. Suddenly writing about Paul Ryan, however, offers a change, and it's easy to conflate a change of topic with a change in the race. Speaking of which....
Here is the #2 reason: change is an intangible. It takes weeks for poll results to stabilize and tell you what impact a VP candidate has on the race, and even then poll numbers can be disputed (polling agency bias, the Bradley Effect, etc.). As an analyst, though, you can document the change immediately. Since no number can really quantify your point, there's no reason not to start making and defending it.
If you've ever read baseball writers trying to explain why game three of the World Series will be different from game two, you know how these intangibles work. They let people with no clue about the outcome seem like they have some insight into it. While Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver rightly said, "Momentum is the next day's starting pitching," no sports columnist has ever gone broke saying that a gutty player who made some gritty plays has seized the momentum for his team. Apart from being twerpy, white and insufferable, Paul Ryan's gutty momentum-seizing makes him the David Eckstein of this campaign. Paired with his running mate, Bloop Single, he is an ecstasy of sacrifice bunts for the elderly. He campaigns the right way. His tie flew off rounding first base.
See? Everything is different now, for reasons. Ryan reasons. Even though everything is pretty much the same, including him. For instance:
1. The Ryan Budget was always going to be subject to attack.
The DNC made no attempt to disguise its focus on the Ryan budget, across all congressional races and up to the presidency. This is why so many "change" headlines featured formulations like, "What Bill Kristol and Nancy Pelosi Both Love About the Ryan Pick." While some RNC strategists enjoy the clarity of having Ryan on the ticket, to rally the conservative base, the DNC also enjoys the clarity of directly attacking him. Romney embraced the Ryan plan—except when he didn't—and Ryan is the "Budget Guru" of the GOP. The pick just makes the lines of defense/attack clearer to voters.
2. Both campaigns were always going to kick Medicare around like a week-old jack-o-lantern.
While the Republican Party always has go-to arguments like, "The Democrat Party is going to give your money to black people and give your job to Mexican people and give our army to United Nations people and give your fetus to the cranial-vacuum people," the Democratic Party only has one reply that scares the GOP: "They're gonna destroy Medicare and Social Security."
While Obama planned to go after the Ryan budget's gutting of Medicare, Romney planned to go after Obamacare and its impact on Medicare. That's why you're seeing that "$700 billion" talking point everywhere. (It's technically true, but the impact ascribed to it is misleading and valueless.) This attack was already in reserve. Ryan didn't conceive of it, and he certainly doesn't help it. His inclusion on the ticket only necessitates using it more forcefully and often, to distract from his own gutting of the program.
3. The real dance here is over 45 years old.
Ever since 1966 or 1968, the GOP has maintained a hammerlock on the voting patterns of the white working class. Republicans capitalized on the civil unrest of the mid-1960s by stoking fires of white resentment, white public safety concerns and the idea that employment opportunities and the welfare state were part of a zero-sum game. Despite, at the time, 20% unemployment among African-Americans and the prejudicial obstructions they faced in the job market, the GOP portrayed inner-city blacks as both coming to steal YOUR job and from YOUR home. And it worked. Dog-whistling and the Southern Strategy have been the official playbook since 1968. Romney ran a play from it just last week, falsely claiming that Barack Obama was removing work requirements for people on welfare. He (a black man) would just give (your) money away to (black) people. Wink.
It's a great strategy. Pit two groups in identical economic straits against each other, and they'll never vote as a combined economic bloc against wealthy people with whom they have nothing in common. In exchange for the white working class' fealty, the GOP has nearly halved the highest marginal tax rate and cut capital gains and inheritance taxes. There isn't room enough here for carried-interest. But they have systematically gutted the social safety net for that same white working class while passing legislation against union activity and endorsing judges who legislate against both.
As said earlier in the week, Paul Ryan is not a new thinker. He's merely the latest avatar of a decades-old economic ideology that leverages whites' anxiety about their economic peers into policies that redistribute monies to our tasteful overlords—who run NFL teams into the ground or appear on NBC shows to fingerpoint beneath what looks like spun-sugar hair on a wedding cake. The only "change" Ryan exemplifies is seeing his party's terminal economic colonialism shrouded in Brooks Brothers shoulder-pads and grayface simpering. He lacks the avuncular charisma of a Reagan or the accessible beery-fiving bro demeanor of George W. Bush. He is a fraudulent "numbers man," and if you look hard enough, his whole body dissolves into them, like the Matrix, if all the numbers were flowing upward into a gilded siphon.
But even this probably presents no real change. Even with Ryan on the ticket, the Romney/Ryan duo versus Obama and Biden presents the familiar dichotomy of the last several decades. There is the suck-up/kick-down malice of the GOP versus the weenie earnestness of some Democrats who can't quite articulate how much they want to unfuck your existence.
The Democrats have spent decades betting that this will be the election that the white working class sees what a raw deal the GOP offers them. That, this time, racial and social and regional resentments aren't worth ejecting money upward in a futile act of economic self-sabotage. Democrats keep making that wager and—apart from a three-way race in 1992 and a nation gone unbelievably to shit in 2008—they keep losing.
Why would anything change?