Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate has been and will continue to be vastly over-interpreted by the national news media as a move that transforms the presidential campaign, as if the GOP tail really can wag the Republican dog.
Certainly the choice of Ryan energizes the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. But as Ryan Lizza pointed out in a brilliant profile in the New Yorker, Ryan’s ideas are so radical they have been consistently sidestepped by mainstream GOP leaders from Bush to Boehner.
Moreover, no vice presidential candidate – not even a Cheney or a Palin – can define a presidential candidacy. The race is and will be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. What Ryan does do is give Obama and the Democrats specific votes on the budget, guns, abortion, Iraq, birth control, economic stimulus and so much more to highlight and creates a new concept – the Romney-Ryan budget – which the Democrats will argue throws grandma from the train in order to give massive tax breaks to the wealthy.
It’s worth recalling how Ryan became a semi-household name. It wasn’t a Republican strategy to put him forward. As Ryan Lizza recounts in his New Yorker profile of Ryan, it was a Democratic strategy to put Ryan forward. Ryan, he writes, “was caught between the demands of the Republican leaders, who wanted nothing to do with his Roadmap, and his own belief that the Party had to offer a sweeping alternative vision to Obama’s. Ryan soon had an unlikely ally, in Obama himself.” While Republicans were trying to keep Ryan quiet, the Obama administration was trying to make him famous. They saw his plans as the clearest distillation of the GOP’s governing philosophy — and they thought it would drive voters towards the Democrats. We’ll know in November whether that was a genius strategy or an epic miscalculation.
Calbuzz asked one of our best sources, very high and deep in the Obama campaign, to outline the effect of the Ryan pick from their perspective. Here’s the response (on background):
1. Romney caved to the right. Bad message to indies.
2. Ryan budgets have all the specificity Romney lacks — lots to shoot at. Lots to shoot at.
3. This intensifies our core contrast — the right investments to grow the economy vs. deregulate and cut taxes, shutter the government.
1. Ryan is respected by elite press for policy/intellectual chops.
2. Buys Romney some excitement/capital with the base.
Overall, this decision shows how incredibly focused they are on their right flank, and that they recognize they can’t afford a safe choice — they need to take some risks to try and recast this race.
Bottom line: the GOP will have a lot of fun in the next couple of weeks under the whip hand of the Weekly Standard, the National Review and the Wall Street Journal. But when the Reeps leave their convention in Tampa, that Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare and Social Security still will be scary to all those pensioners in Sarasota and Miami. And Mitt Romney will have to own it.