Romney and Ryan’s weekend performances on TV generated much right wing angst.  They looked shady trying to dodge questions asking them to spell out which tax loopholes they would close.  There are similar issues with their healthcare plan: they would “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but replace it with what exactly?

There is an obvious advantage to policy ambiguity: if you are clear, the other side knows what to attack but if you are opaque, it is harder.  The disadvantage is that you opponent can then make something up as being our policy and hang you with that.  Your counter-argument is to claim that your policy is not what your opponent says it is etc etc.

The balance is weighed towards disadvantage when there is an obvious policy to use to fill in the blanks.  This is the issue Romney faced as soon as he picked Ryan.  Ryan has lots of plans for the budget, Medicare, privatizing Social Security etc.  These are obvious and credible policy options for a Romney-Ryan White House.  The fact that the VP candidate has embraced these policies undercuts your counter-argument to your opponent’s argument.  Policy ambiguity loses its strategic advantage.  If Romney had picked Pawlenty, it might have worked.  But with Ryan on board, Romney has to spell out his policies in greater detail and Ryan has to own them.  He has done this already with abortion and he has to start doing the same with his economic policies.

The difficulty is that Romney has not embraced ambiguity enough to make it easy to embrace clarity.  He has promised various tax cuts (e.g. estate tax), and these tie him down.  Can he identify loopholes to raise revenue that covers the tax cuts he has promised without raising taxes on the middle class? If he can’t, he’s stuck using an outsider’s strategy but with an insider as his partner.