Saving Mr Romney

 

IF MITT Romney thought that by selecting Paul Ryan as running-mate this would give his presidential campaign new momentum, and help him establish a clear lead over the incumbent Barack Obama, he has been disappointed so far. Mr Obama retains a narrow lead over his rival ahead of this week’s Republican party convention in Florida. Mr Ryan, a more controversial and charismatic figure than Mr Romney, is expected to add some intellectual rigour to the economic debate that could prove critical in deciding the race for the White House.

The arrival of Mr Ryan, a 42 year-old congressman from Wisconsin and chairman of its powerful budget committee, has been overshadowed by some embarrassing noises offstage: controversial remarks by a Republican candidate for the Senate, Todd Akin. Mr Akin’s intervention on rape, where he created distinctions between what he has termed “legitimate rape” and illegitimate rape, have been doubly embarrassing. His remarks – with their suggestion that women victims of violent rape somehow do not get pregnant – were offensive, while his later clarification proved inadequate. Mr Akin’s refusal to abandon his Senate election bid is a rebuff to Mr Romney’s authority, and has served to ensure the controversy continues. This divisive matter risks being carried over into the convention where the platform for debate already reflects a preoccupation with abortion and reproduction issues that have made many American women wary of the Republicans.

Mr Romney has failed in recent months to use time spent on the campaign trail to redefine and sharpen his image for voters, and so broaden and enhance his appeal. His failure to publish copies of his tax returns before 2010 breaks with a presidential tradition, and fuels suspicions that he has something to hide. Mr Ryan’s selection has thrilled the base of the Republican party. But questions have been raised about whether Mr Ryan’s choice as vice-president is an electoral asset or a liability. Newt Gingrich, a former Republican speaker of the House, dismissed Mr Ryan’s budget proposal for 2102 as “right-wing social engineering”. David Stockman, a key conservative figure and a former director of the office of management and budget under Ronald Reagan, said the plan was “devoid of credible math or hard policy choices”. Criticisms from within Republican ranks are likely to prove far more damaging to Mr Romney’s election hopes than criticisms from Mr Obama.

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