Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan's Express *

Mitt Romney finally made his choice for the VP slot on his ticket, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.  I think it was one of the best choices he could make under the circumstances:  Ryan is just a conservative white guy, but at least he's not one of the boring ones.  Ryan is a rising star in the right-wing camp, a young thought leader who speaks clearly and has advocated principles which many in the country will applaud:  restructuring entitlements now, reducing discretionary spending, cuts in the tax rates.  Romney's credentials with the party's right wing members were suspect--this will enhance them and motivate them. 

Ryan also seems like a decent person, sincere and respectful.  There's no need to attack him personally; one good thing about the choice is that it will help focus the campaign on ideas and issues, instead of personal attacks.  In that sense, it is a possible gamechanger.  Romney needed to change the dynamic of the campaign, which had turned sharply against him in the last month or so. It was getting away from him fast, so I give him credit for being willing to take a chance to break out of the box--rich, out of touch, gaming the tax code for his own benefit--that he was rapidly being framed into.

Unfortunately, I don't think Ryan will do that much good for Romney, and running for VP on a ticket that is probably going to lose is not going to do that much for Ryan's career. Instead of positioning Romney as a moderate in his party and thus making his appeal to the middle--the pivot to the center we have been expecting from the general election campaign--Ryan will plant Romney more firmly on the right.  Ryan may help Romney win Wisconsin, a state that, after the Gov. Walker recall fracas, had a highly-motivated Republican base and looked competitive to me, but Romney can win Wisconsin and will still lose the election if he doesn't win two of the three critical swing states:  Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.

As for Ryan, while he's running to get a back office in the Executive suite, he better watch that he doesn't lose his House seat.  I don't think VP/President was where he wanted to go next; Speaker of the House would have made more sense as a middle-term ambition.  If/when Romney-Ryan loses, particularly if it's not close, Ryan may end up taking a lot of the blame for losing the swing voters. As for the Republican party, this year's primary campaign showed how weak their pool of top leaders is; Ryan vaults into the front and center of that picture, though it may be that the party has hitched its future to an unpopular set of principles that may be a political loser.

*Obscure reference to a WWII Allies "terrorism" film--hijacking a Nazi train--called "Von Ryan's Express" (1965) which starred Frank Sinatra,  Trevor Howard, and Raffaele Carra. Like it or not, though the bus may be Romney's, he's now riding on Ryan's express, and Ryan's policy positions will be central to the debate and to the results of this year's election. 

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