The fine art of presentation distraction: Romney creates a Ryan smokescreen

For a big distraction, go with a big crazy decision

by Peter Watts

“Look! A polar bear!”

It’s the classic presenter smoke-screen, and sometimes it can even work!

If you have been unskilled enough to get yourself backed into the corner by your audience on a topic that you don’t want to discuss, then you only have one option left.

The monumental distraction!

I believe today’s announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s choice for Vice-President is a presentation tactic simply to divert attention away from the growing tax questions circling around Romney.

I believe this because the choice fails to make sense on at least two levels:

The timing of the announcement is wrong

For a measure of how wrong it is, take a look at the fact that nobody predicted today as the choice. There is no logical reason why Romney should suddenly have spat-out a VP choice.

The choice is wrong

Paul Ryan is rich red-meat for the hard-right core of the Republican Party. This is a group of people who weren’t about to vote for Obama anyway. Instead this will produce a massive mobilization of Seniors, Women voters, and Independents across to the Obama camp.

Frank Bruni in the NYT describes the breath-taking political risk level of this hail-mary throw superbly in his piece: “Risky Ryan”

Even though Ryan is most definitely not a Sarah Palin, the mechanisms behind his choice appear to be extremely similar. McCain was in a tight-spot and he needed a headline in a hurry. He seized on Palin as a way to create a headline.

Romney desperately needs a headline too, and has hit the nuclear button in order to get one.

So, what he is getting in terms of Paul Ryan’s speaking abilities? In particular, how does he stack up against incumbent Vice-President Joe Biden?

Ryan’s major forte comes in terms of numbers. Put him in a high-stress environment such as a TV studio or in front of a major audience, and his ability to hold and manipulate those numbers in his head is super-human.

He is an incredible detail thinker, and analytical to a fault.

Here is a clip of Ryan speaking in the House that shows this incredible numbers brain in operation:

Up against Joe Biden, this would immediately suggest a Ryan win. Biden is passionate and famously excitable. When he becomes excited, he speaks from the heart. When the words entering Biden’s mouth are coming straight from Biden’s heart, then Biden’s foot is seldom far behind.

So, for mental fire-power combined with coolness, Ryan has the capacity to slice Biden into sashimi.

There is a major plus in Biden’s favor however. He is avuncular, he is human, and he is extremely likable.

Ryan is not. Typical Ryan traits when debating include smirking, finger pointing, interrupting, and general bullying. He also uses informal forms of address as a way to sound friendly, but in reality to belittle his opponent. Take a look at this clip:

Ryan is a skilled speaker. He might try to hide it but various little tells of stagecraft show a lot of training. As a trained speaker he knows how to behave with honor. We have to assume therefore that he is doing this with full and deliberate awareness.

In the ultimate Biden v. Ryan analysis, then with regret I have to call it as advantage-Ryan. It’s going to be nasty. It’s going to be messy. No one apart from the Tea Party will enjoy the spectacle, but I’m really not sure if passionate Joe Biden will be able to withstand the Ryan ice-pick.

Republican insider Peter Wehner recently said:

“When he looks at Ryan, Romney probably sees somebody like himself, a person he’d want at his side in the business world or the political world.”

In panic Romney has chosen the sort of man he would have chosen to have as a faithful lieutenant at Bain Capital.

Side by side, they represent the Bain of America.

Unless of course, the distraction tactics fail.

What do you think will happen? Will Romney succeed in distracting the media’s attention, with his very own Ryan tax-plan?


  1. Brilliant analysis, as usual. I’m so glad I have you to keep me politically informed. I overdosed on political rhetoric while writing my dissertation 2008-2009 on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It’s nice to know I can keep up, without having to watch the news. 😉

    • Thanks Laura 🙂

      Hugo Chavez?!? Now there’s a character! Maybe we should select a Chavez speech and do a joint-analysis together??

      Make an interesting shared blog-post don’t you think?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: