By now, most Americans have certainly heard that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has selected U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate in this year's presidential race. Ryan is considered one of the GOP's gurus on fiscal and budgetary issues, and enjoys immense popularity among fiscal conservatives.
In Ryan, Romney has selected a tea party darling, the chief architect of the Republican Party's plan for tax and spending cuts and an advocate of reshaping the country's Medicare program. The austere budget proposal that bears Ryan's name would cut $770 billion from Medicaid and other health programs for the poor over 10 years as compared with President Obama's recent budget. He also takes an additional $205 billion from Medicare and an additional $1.6 trillion from food stamps, welfare, federal employee pensions and support for farmers. In addition, his plans include changing Medicare into a program that would rely largely on vouchers.
To add insult to injury, Ryan's budget would offset these $5.3 trillion in spending cuts by offering a $4.2 trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest in this country, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.
Whew. Looks like it will be a long winter for the 99 percent if the Wisconsin congressman gets his way. Indeed, if this plan were to be put in place, those who criticize Obama for not doing enough for the poor and middle class would have to start a new poverty tour.
But by choosing Ryan, Romney has also muddled his ticket's message. Indeed, shortly after Saturday's announcement, Romney appeared to distance himself from his running mate's controversial budget plan, which many Americans have expressed doubts over. In talking points sent out by the campaign, the candidate suggested that he didn't necessarily agree with everything in Ryan's controversial budget.
"Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget," the campaign said, according to CNN Political Tracker. "As president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance."
But this lukewarm statement differs wildly from the enthusiastic endorsement Romney has offered of Ryan's plan in the past.
"I think it'd be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan's budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president," the New Yorker quoted him as saying in March.
In addition, in public statements, Romney has said: "I spent a good deal of time with Congressman Ryan. When his plan came out, I applauded it as an important step," he said. "We're going to have to make changes like the ones Paul Ryan proposed."
So, why would Romney choose a running mate, then immediately attempt to distance himself from him in this critical area?
How could the presumptive GOP presidential nominee at one moment express consistent support for the budget plan and then all of a sudden claim that it is merely "going in the right direction"?
Is he so nervous about the results from three polls released in the past several days that show Obama widening his lead to as much as nine points?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the plan has been received with skepticism by the American public. When the Ryan plan was first unveiled last year, several polls found that a majority of voters -- especially seniors -- weren't supportive of Ryan's ideas.
For instance, in June 2011, a Pew Research Center poll found that 40 percent of Americans opposed turning Medicare into a voucher system. That poll also found that a majority of older Americans, 51 percent, opposed the idea. At the same time, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that 58 percent of American adults opposed Ryan's Medicare proposal, while just 35 percent said they supported it.
It's obvious that the majority of the American public knows what it believed regarding Ryan's plan when it was unveiled. But the question is, what does Mitt Romney really stand for?
I suspect that Romney is treading very carefully -- hoping to woo conservatives on the one hand by selecting Ryan but distancing himself from support of Ryan's budget plans so as not to alienate mainstream Americans who appear to be skeptical of the budget document. It's very likely that putting some space between himself and the plan was an act of political necessity, even if it wasn't entirely an accurate representation of the candidate's feelings, opinions, plans or position.
This flip-flopping should give pause to both Democrats and Republicans who are attempting to sift through the political games and decipher what Romney's real positions are, since they seem to be ever evolving and ever changing.
Sooner or later, the real Mitt Romney must present himself to the American people. Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?
A version of this article first appeared on the Washinton Post's The Root blog.
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