Paul Ryan: A Smart Pick, Or Just A Risky One?
Now that it’s confirmed that Paul Ryan will indeed be Mitt Romney’s Vice-Presidential nominee, a move that, like James Joyner, I find surprising, the reactions are starting to come out from both sides of the aisle, and their about what you’d expect.
On the right, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. As I noted the other day, Ryan has been something of an intellectual hero on the right for awhile now thanks to the Ryan Plan, officially known as the Path to Prosperity. Indeed, there were many on the right last year who were calling on Ryan to run for President himself, a move that he ultimately decided not to make to the disappointment of many conservatives who spent much of 2011 looking for a “not Romney.” For the past several weeks, the chatter about Ryan as Romney’s VP nominee became louder and louder, with The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal leading conservative publications in calling for Romney to put Ryan on the ticket.
Now, the reaction from the right to this announcement in the early hours is pretty ecstatic. Take, for example, this from Town Hall’s Guy Benson:
Any way you slice it, this is a game-changer. As I wrote earlier this week, Paul Ryan is one of the sunniest, most likeable conservatives on the scene today. He’s also the party’s top wonk and is completely fluent in fiscal issues. I predict that Democrats will publicly gloat over this pick (“he’ll be so easy to demonize!”), even as they privately worry. Paul Ryan is earnest, smart, articulate, attractive, calm, good-humored, and exceptionally gifted in explaining his case in persuasive and unthreatening terms. He’s from the Midwest, has blue collar appeal (unlike Romney, he did not grow up wealthy), and has a beautiful young family. The Left will launch vicious and totally dishonest attacks, as they have throughout the last two years of budget debates. But never before has Paul Ryan enjoyed a larger platform from which to make his case to the American public: The country is going broke, a fiscal calamity awaits, but we can avoid it if we take responsible, urgent action. This campaign is about to get a major (and needed) injection of seriousness.
Finally, this is a bold pick by Mitt Romney. It underscores his appreciation of the national moment and the seriousness of our economic and fiscal state. It should also eliminate any doubts about Romney’s commitment to Obamacare repeal and entitlement reform, Paul Ryan’s top issues.
I suppose the first question I have there is whether this is going to work with the American public. Poll after poll has been telling us for the better part of the year that the number one issue in November is going to be the economy and jobs. The latest round of economic statistics suggests that the importance of these issues in the minds of voters are going to be even more important in the minds of voters. If the Romney/Ryan ticket begins to shift the focus of its message from the economy to the fiscal situation in Washington, though, are voters going to see the connection between those long-term issues and the short-term issue of the state of the economy and where the jobs are going to come from?
Also, on the right, Jonah Goldberg sees this as energizing the GOP base:
The GOP base, particularly the tea parties, will now be even more enthusiastic because this gives them a much more solid reason to want Romney to win as opposed to just wanting Obama to lose.
It shows that for all of the talk of Romney’s timidity and cautiousness he can make a bold decision when he needs to.
This helps Romney communicate that this is a new Republican Party, insofar as Ryan is not only young and energetic, but he is eager to criticize the old status quo of both parties.
Ryan will be a fantastic surrogate on the stump. If (and I said if) the upper Midwest is really in play there are few better to fight for it.
Ryan reinforces the message, grounded in objective fact, that the Republicans have a plan for the future while the Democrats are simply about kicking the can.
This may well be true, and there is some value in a Vice-Presidential candidate that energizes the base, but what about the independent voters that Romney also needs to attract? How are they going to react to this pick? And when the Democratic Party begins to unleash its inevitable attacks against the Ryan Plan, which we’ve already seen, how will they react? We got some clue of that last year when poll after poll showed that the public is not in favor of entitlement cuts in general, for example. With respect to the Ryan plan in particular, from the beginning it has faced hostility rfrom voters back home,. Ever since then, the polling has not been good news for Ryan’s plan at all, with a majority saying they oppose the plan, and that they believed it would make them worse off. Does this selection make it likely that the GOP will alienate the very independent voters they need to win the election?
Jazz Shaw voices some of those very concerns:
[A]s much as we need to have this conversation about fiscal responsibility and the future of entitlement programs, I confess that I’m still nervous about whether or not the rest of the country is ready to lace up their boots and seriously discuss tough medicine for an ailing system. Perhaps it’s just because I’m out in New York and we are still smarting from the 2011 debacle where we lost what was considered the safest GOP seat in the New York delegation to a county clerk who ran a blistering campaign, 24/7 with absolutely no other message than the fact that her Republican opponent would not completely disavow the Ryan Plan.
These concerns are well warranted. One can already see how the Obama camp is going to handle the Ryan pick, and we’ve already seen some cases where running against the Ryan Plan has been successful for them. On the other hand, they tried that strategy in 2010 and it didn’t work at all. Of course, one of the main reasons for that is that the Republicans who were running largely didn’t let themselves get drawn into long debates about entitlement reform and instead focused on the economy and the health care reform act. If the Romney/Ryan campaign can do that, then perhaps they can blunt the inevitable attack that is coming. However, there are concerns out there because, for all the energy that the Ryan pick brings to the Republican base, it opens up the door to Democrats who will accuse Republicans of wanting to end the most popular entitlement program the Federal Government runs. That’s largely untrue, of course, and the attacks themselves ignore the fiscal problems that Medicare faces in the not too distant future, even with the Affordable Care Act in place, but these are attacks that can work in states like Florida where there are a lot of Medicare recipients.
As if to prove Jazz’s concerns correct, Steve Benen outlines what it likely to be the response from the left:
[B]oth the left and right have the Republican running mate they hoped for — Romney has picked the architect of a radical, Medicare-crushing budget plan, debated by the least popular Congress since the dawn of modern polling. Indeed, it’s fair to say the radical Ryan budget helped make this Congress so widely disliked, which makes his VP nomination that much more remarkable.
For months, Democrats have been trying to inject the “Romney-Ryan plan” into the political bloodstream, and now, the Republicans’ presidential candidate has made Dems’ job easier. The Obama campaign hoped to make Ryan Romney’s effective running mate, never expecting the GOP candidate to make this literal.
The result is a dynamic that was hard to predict. Romney isn’t even trying to reach out to moderate voters; he’s taking the most far-right candidacy in modern American history and turning it to 11.
You can expect to hear more of this from the left going forward, because, as I noted above, they have evidence that it works.
In his Playbook this morning, Ben Smith notes that the choice of Ryan essentially -means that Romney has changed the focus of his campaign:
Mitt Romney is discarding one of the most basic assumptions that has driven his campaign until now: Make the race is about President Obama, and he will lose. Don’t worry about being accused of being vapid and elliptical, went the Romney theory of the case: The more specific you are, the more chance voters will be distracted from a simple referendum on the Obama economy. Run out the clock, look credible and plausible, don’t lunge for shiny objects that take you off your economic message, and you’ll win.
The selection of Ryan — to be announced at 9:05 a.m. aboard the USS Wisconsin (!) as Romney begins a swing-state bus tour in Norfolk, Va. — disrupts a race that had been trending subtly but unmistakably Obama’s way. Romney now has a chance to make the race about something big, rather than the petty squabbles that h)ave dominated the general election so far.
Some Beltway Republicans are already fretting that this could be an intellectual version of Sarah Palin: It’s August, you’re behind, conservatives don’t like your candidacy, so you throw a long ball.
Given the state of the polls, and the direction the race has been moving, it’s perhaps understandable that the Romney campaign would attempt to go for a bold pick like Ryan. However, while he’s certainly no Sarah Palin, there are risks that picking him bring to the forefront. Romney is taking a gamble here, hoping that he will be able to recast the race over the next two weeks and come out of the convention fighting. It could very well succeed, and perhaps the American people are in the mood for a serious campaign about big ideas. It could also fail, however, if the voters don’t see this choice as addressing the issues that of concern to them.