In 1996, Bill Clinton adopted a strategy of “triangulation” that shifted his image from liberal Hillarycare advocate to a center-right candidate who emphasized issues like balancing the budget, reforming welfare, and deregulating to encourage economic growth. Americans were pleasantly surprised when President Clinton declared the “Era of Big Government was over.”
Congressman Paul Ryan should take a page from the Clinton playbook and do a little political ju-jitsu of his own when he takes the stage with Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday.
As the momentum is with the Republican ticket after Barack Obama’s lackluster performance in the first presidential debate, Ryan must use his opportunity to press the points that helped propel Governor Romney to his debate victory.
Ryan is well-known for his budget blueprint and his courageous advocacy of meaningful reform of unsustainable entitlement programs. But the Thursday veep debate is not the time to turn the national stage into a seminar on Ryan budget plan nuance. To do so would play right into the Obama-Biden wheelhouse.
Instead, Ryan should focus on pounding three winning themes: 1) Proven bi-partisan leadership, 2) competent solutions-oriented approaches to the significant challenges facing the country with an emphasis on foreign policy, and 3) a governing philosophy that will unite a divided nation.
There is little doubt Joe Biden’s debate crib sheet will be loaded with one-liners about Ryan’s Medicare plans – and he will surely accuse the congressman of pushing granny over the cliff. While Ryan must do what is necessary to defend his ideas, he will be most effective if he uses his time to counterpunch and put the vice president off-guard on the topics that Barack Obama all but owned in 2008. He should knock the legs out from under Biden and try to provoke one of those famous Jawin’ Joe gaffes.
No question that Mitt Romney left Barack Obama reeling after the Denver debate. But it was no knock-out blow.
It is going to take all four debates to put the champ on the canvass – and Romney must expect that the president will come out swinging when they meet again. The veep debate is important for the contrast that Paul Ryan and Joe Biden present – but its real significance is as the chance for the Romney-Ryan ticket to open up a new gash on the record of a couple of Democratic fighters who might not be able to take a punch.
(Paul Welday is senior counsel at Watts Partners, a Washington D.C.-based government affairs consulting firm. A Michigan political veteran, he has been a Congressional chief-of-staff and a candidate for Congress. Originally posted on The Michigan View.)