Mitt Romney’s vice presidential selection was on its face a very good one—solid, strong and perhaps riskier than it needed to be. Less a “bold choice” (sorry Bill Kristol) and certainly not a “maverick pick” the choice of Paul Ryan was, at least for Mitt Romney, appropriate. For months, Romney and his campaign were beset by pundits, Establishment types and wannabe prognosticators divining who he would or should pick. From safe to out-of-the-box, names were all over the place; an no name wasn’t good enough to suggest (Kim Kardashian. Really?). But in the end Mitt knew what he wanted—he wanted it all! And in Paul Ryan he gets a little Rob Portman and Bobby Jindal (policy wonk), Tim Pawlenty (GOP grassroots, Sam’s Club Republicanism) and even Marco Rubio (Tea Party appeal).
Just as significant is that Romney, by choosing Ryan, has clearly decided to reset the narrative in his race with President Obama. And here’s where the wheels can come off pretty quick. For the past 4 months or so, the Romney campaign has argued, pushed and even distorted the facts to make the point that this election is a referendum on the Obama years. Sure Obama was dealt a bad set of cards, the argument goes, but leadership—especially presidential leadership is about what you do with the cards you are dealt. For Romney, the president just didn’t know how to play his hand. But in selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt has given the president a new set of cards.
Starting now, this race is no longer a referendum on Obama but rather a choice between Obama (“Status Quo Liberalism”) and Romney (“Reform Conservatism”). It appears the Romney-Ryan campaign is ready to make this argument and the Obama-Biden campaign can’t wait for it. In addition to jobs and the economy Romney now wants a broader debate about big ideas and even bigger policies, hence the Ryan selection, and is counting on Paul Ryan’s smarts and bookish charms to dissect Obama and Biden. But Paul Ryan and his budget have also given the president an opportunity to make the race not just about Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns (you really didn’t expect them to give those up, did you?) but also about a return to “trickle-down economics” and “ending [fill in the blank] as we know it,” claims Republicans at least up to now have not been able to respond to effectively.
And in an ironic political twist, both campaigns are happy with this pick (at least for the moment). Republicans (especially conservatives) are excited to know a budget hawk would be a heartbeat away from the oval office; and Democrats are smiling like Cheshire cats because a budget hawk is a heartbeat away from Mitt Romney.
But all of this excitement about Paul Ryan being picked reminds me of the Jeff Goldblum quote from the Lost World: Jurassic Park in responding to how excited everyone was to be at Jurassic Park: “That’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”
Thanks for the very insightful analysis, Tom.
It’s hard to add much except to say this: You will hear the phrase “No one over 55 will be impacted” more than you heard Al Gore say “lockbox.” And of course from the other side you will hear the incessant “end of Medicare as you know it” refrain. The victor of that argument will likely win the election.
Amid annual trillion dollar deficits and the nation’s debt rating downgrade, I suspect that Americans are somewhat more willing than before to hear a serious conversation about our nation’s troubled finances.
But in order to prevail in that argument, Romney must tweak the Ryan plan to reduce the benefits for the wealthy and shift money towards deficit reduction. Only then would he be able to capture the moral high road.
However, doing so would alienate the very conservative pundit class that the Ryan pick has appeased, which is why I find it quite unlikely.
I served with Paul Ryan for 10 of my 12 years in Congress, and 4 years together on the House Budget Committee.
Paul is bright, pleasant, hard-working—a real gentleman.
But he is also an ideologue, inspired by Ayn Rand, fiercely opposed to federal spending and a passionate believer in the power of tax cuts to stimulate economic growth in all circumstances.
The budget proposals he has presented the last three years reduce taxes for the wealthy, and services (and tax breaks) for the middle class.
Ryan is a small government conservative; not a deficit hawk.
Ryan is also a high risk choice for Romney; his campaign must be gambling that Ryan’s ideas will not be well enough understood to hurt Romney’s chances. Since ideas get trivialized and trampled by media coverage anyway, they may be right.
It is a sad commentary on our dysfunctional politics that the Republican nominee felt he had to choose someone on the right wing of the party rather than reach out to the middle of the electorate.
1. Maybe, just maybe, the presidential debate will turn substantive: The past few weeks have seen some of the most disgusting and despicable campaign charges in recent memory — from the Obama Super PAC implying that Romney killed a man’s wife to Romney’s completely mendacious claim that Obama is eliminating the work requirement from Bill Clinton’s welfare reform. The choice of Paul Ryan places his economic policy vision on the front stage, and allows the country to witness a thorough, meaningful debate on whether FDR’s Welfare State should survive this Age of Austerity. It will also put in clear focus one of the critical themes of modern America — growing income inequality — and I hope will force the Obama campaign to develop concrete plans to deal with it.
2. Mitt Romney’s campaign could be the next victim of the “Aspen Curse”: As an Obama supporter, it is comforting to know that the “Aspen Curse” — which victimized me and so many of my friends — could turn on Mitt Romney. As I detailed in this piece a few months ago, I was the member of the Inaugural Class of the Aspen Institute’s Rodel Fellows program, that brought together young political leaders from across the country for bipartisan dialogue. Unfortunately, every one of us that sought major statewide office over the next several years lost — from contributing RP Michael Steele to New Jersey’s Tom Kean to Missouri’s Robin Carnahan to most recently Nebraska’s Jon Bruning. Paul Ryan, and seven other young incumbent Congressman, were originally named to our class; but due to their busy schedules and strict Congressional ethics rules, Aspen dropped Congressmen from the program. Still, the Aspen Curse victimized sorta-Rodel-Fellows Florida’s Kendrick Meek when he ran for the U.S. Senate and contributing RP Artur Davis when he ran for Alabama’s Governor. So maybe too Paul Ryan will meet the same fate.
3. It demonstrates that the Romney campaign is in trouble. As nearly every insta-analyst of the pick has agreed, Paul Ryan was the riskiest pick among the VP finalists, which included former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and my spring prediction, Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Romney and his campaign have been playing it safe since the beginning of the primary season, avoiding controversy whenever possible. The Ryan pick indicates that they felt they needed to shake up the dynamic that has Obama up 7-9 points in national polls, despite their looming cash advantage.
4. It is great news for Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. The tiny, extraordinary school, which hosted the 2000 Vice-Presidential debate, will get its second chance to be in the world’s spotlight this fall. Having a debate between two bright, spirited men, with deeply contrasting visions of the country’s economic future, will lift the debate in significance and historical weight. It will be another great moment for small town Kentucky.
5. It is great news for my daughter, Emily. Of course, I personally view this as #1. As Emily heads next week to freshman orientation at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, her outstanding choice of higher education will rise in national attention as the alma mater of the GOP Vice Presidential nominee. Moreover, I’m thrilled that the presidential campaign will become a central part of campus dialogue, making Emily’s first experience in the voting booth — casting her ballot for Barack Obama — all the more special.
6. (UPDATED) Of the four men on the two major presidential tickets, the only Protestant is the..uh..”Muslim”