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.”