Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington: Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong.
In more than three dozen interviews with Republican strategists and campaign operatives — old hands and rising next-generation conservatives alike — the most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election.
It is not that the public professions of excitement about the Ryan selection are totally insincere. It is that many of the most optimistic Republican operatives will privately acknowledge that their views are being shaped more by fingers-crossed hope than by a hard-headed appraisal of what’s most likely to happen.
And the more pessimistic strategists don’t even feign good cheer: They think the Ryan pick is a disaster for the GOP. Many of these people don’t care that much about Romney — they always felt he faced an improbable path to victory — but are worried that Ryan’s vocal views about overhauling Medicare will be a millstone for other GOP candidates in critical House and Senate races.
Let’s get to the caveats: No one is asserting that Washington operatives in either party are oracles or seers. What’s more, it is not as if there is anything like unanimity in GOP circles about the merits of the Ryan pick, though the mood of anxiety and skepticism is overwhelming.
Most of all, if you are one of those people who thinks if someone has something negative to say, they should have the guts to put their name on it, you won’t find much to impress you in this article. Nearly all the Republican professionals interviewed for this story said they would share their unfiltered views only “on background” rules of attribution.
But Washington political chatter is a pervasive reality even when the chatterers prefer not to risk personal relationships or professional prospects by publicly second-guessing their party’s nominee. For Romney, even if he ultimately proves the doubters wrong, the skepticism among capital insiders is an obstacle as he seeks to frame a general election argument.
And that skepticism about Ryan among GOP strategists is striking.
They’re worried about inviting Medicare — usually death for Republicans — into the campaign. They’re worried it sidetracks the jobs issue. They’re worried he’ll expose the fact that Romney doesn’t have a budget plan. Most of all, they’re worried that Romney was on track to lose anyway — and now that feels all but certain.
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