The GOP's Shrinking Base

The white working-class group that Romney and his VP pick are courting isn't what it used to be.

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And herein lies the staggering genius of Romney's Paul Ryan pick. The optics alone reflect the far right's fantasy: an all-white, all-male ticket that appeases the GOP base. In fact, Ryan seems nearly identical to Romney's own sons: tall, dark-haired and preppy. No Latino like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and no woman like Sarah Palin. This picture-perfect ticket says that the Romney-Ryan plan is to restore American power to its paler past.

But dig a little deeper and Ryan -- just like Romney -- doesn't measure up.

First elected in 1998, Ryan is not a fresh face. He was a reliable vote for President George W. Bush, voting for the original Bush tax cuts as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even though they were financed by deficit spending. He supported the costly and unfunded Medicare D prescription-drug plan, which conservatives now call socialist. Ryan even approved Bush's bank-bailout program, known as TARP.

All of these measures added more than $5 trillion to the national debt, but now Ryan blames Obama's policies for being the root cause of what was clearly Republican ineptitude.

Romney has largely been framed, even by his Republican-primary competitors, as a wealthy tycoon, out of touch with the average voter. Paul Ryan, however, is an apple not far from the same tree. He decries reliance on the state, but his biography shows that he benefits hugely from the hard work of others. He collects a salary -- with health benefits -- from the very government that he claims should be smaller, and he opposes "Obamacare," which offers Americans the benefits that Ryan and his family already enjoy.

This is where the hypocritical meets the unforgivable.

Undoubtedly, Ryan was chosen in part because his Midwestern roots may appeal to voters in rural areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. In the wake of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's win in Wisconsin's recall election, Romney is hopeful that Ryan's home state is in play. But the disconnect between reality and Ryan's proposals proves how out of touch Republicans have become -- even with devoted working-class whites.

Already Ryan has followed Romney's surreptitious lead, saying in a 60 Minutes interview with CBS' Bob Schieffer that he's willing to turn over only two years of tax returns. The two candidates appear to be applying for country club membership in the old boys' network -- not trying to become leaders of the free world and an ethnically, racially and culturally diverse nation.

This Republican ticket reflects a party of dead ideas, stuck in a past that we need to forget.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.