Why has Janesville turned against native son Paul Ryan?
Like perhaps most other people who had given the matter any thought, I had figured that the good burghers of Janesville, Wis., were beaming with pride that one of their own, native son Paul Ryan, was Mitt Romney’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.
After all, Ryan had been something of an All-American boy growing up in Janesville. He was president of his class and prom king at Joseph A. Craig High School. He played on three of the school’s sports team and flipped burgers at a local McDonald’s for a little spending money. He was a bright and well-liked kid who participated in several academic and social clubs.
When Ryan, as an adult, set his sights on Congress, he was elected eight times, never getting less than 55 percent of the vote. He was a man on his way to political prominence, eventually gaining the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee and becoming his party’s choice to deliver the nationally-televised Republican response to the State of the Union Address in 2011.
And then, this past summer, Ryan got the nod from Romney as the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate. Conventional political wisdom held that he would help the ticket carry Wisconsin, which had gone for Barack Obama in 2008.
But conventional political wisdom got turned on its ear when all the votes were counted. Not only did the Romney-Ryan ticket lose Wisconsin, it also lost Janesville — by a whopping 25 percentage points. What’s more, Ryan lost Janesville by 10 percentage points in his simultaneous bid for re-election to Congress. The rest of his congressional district saved him from defeat, but his margin of victory was the smallest of his career.
I’ll leave it to others to figure out why Janesville has turned against Ryan, but there’s one angle to all of this that I find especially interesting:
In an interview the other day, Ryan said the GOP ticket lost the election not because Americans turned against its right-wing positions but rather because the “urban” vote went to Obama. That argument, of course, is both nonsensical and bigoted. He’s saying, in effect, that genuine Americans embraced the Republican message, while “urban” people — read: minorities and political and cultural elites — did not.
This theory is refuted by the fact that the Romney-Ryan ticket also lost predominately white and rural states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
But more to the point, how does Ryan’s “urban” excuse jibe with the thumping his ticket got in his hometown of Janesville? It’s a town of only 63,000 residents, and 92 percent of them are white. Those demographics don’t readily bring to mind the “urban” label.