For Some Reason, Conservatives Are Eager For Paul Ryan To Get A Powerless Job

The recent call by many on the right for Mitt Romney to select Paul Ryan as his running mate is puzzling.

With possibly only days left before Mitt Romney announces who is running mate will be, The Wall Street Journal joins the chorus of conservatives that has developed of later calling on Romney to select Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan:

The whispering over Mitt Romney’s choice of a running mate is getting louder, and along with it we are being treated to the sotto voce angst of the GOP establishment: Whatever else Mitt does, he wouldn’t dare pick Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, would he?

Too risky, goes the Beltway chorus. His selection would make Medicare and the House budget the issue, not the economy. The 42-year-old is too young, too wonky, too, you know, serious. Beneath it all you can hear the murmurs of the ultimate Washington insult—that Mr. Ryan is too dangerous because he thinks politics is about things that matter. That dude really believes in something, and we certainly can’t have that.

All of which highly recommend him for the job.

(…)

The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline.

Against the advice of every Beltway bedwetter, he has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts. And he has done so as part of a larger vision that stresses tax reform for faster growth, spending restraint to prevent a Greek-like budget fate, and a Jack Kemp-like belief in opportunity for all. He represents the GOP’s new generation of reformers that includes such Governors as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

As important, Mr. Ryan can make his case in a reasonable and unthreatening way. He doesn’t get mad, or at least he doesn’t show it. Like Reagan, he has a basic cheerfulness and Midwestern equanimity.

As for Medicare, the Democrats would make Mr. Ryan’s budget a target, but then they are already doing it anyway. Mr. Romney has already endorsed a modified version of Mr. Ryan’s premium-support Medicare reform, and who better to defend it than the author himself?

The Journal goes on to say that picking Ryan, rather than what are considered the safe conventional picks like Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty would allow Romney to make this election about the “big issues” that the American public supposedly craves:

To win, Mr. Romney and the Republicans have to rise above those smaller issues and cast the choice as one about the overall direction and future of the country. Americans tell pollsters they are anxious and unhappy precisely because they instinctively know the country is troubled in ways it hasn’t been since the 1970s. They know the economy is growing too slowly to raise middle-class incomes, while the government is growing too fast to be affordable.

Above all, Americans are hungry for leadership. They want leaders willing to take on the hard issues, preferably without the rancor and polarization that have defined Mr. Obama’s Presidency. But they will reward leaders who succeed despite the rancor, as Wisconsin voters showed by their huge turnout in support of Governor Scott Walker this year.

Is that really the case? I’m not so sure. The polls all say that the number one issues on voters minds are the economy and jobs, not some vague idea of “leadership.” Yes, a candidate who comes forward with a bold plan may project leadership and a sense that they can get the job done, but that can turn out to be a double edged sword if it turns out the public doesn’t like what you’re proposing. That’s the problem that the Ryan Budget faces. Poll after poll has shown that the public is not in favor of entitlement cuts in general, for example. As for the Ryan plan itself, almost as soon as the plan was introduced last year, Republicans have faced hostility regarding it from voters back home. Shortly thereafter, the polling started coming in and it was not 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.

Because of all this, Ezra Klein wonders why conservatives seem so eager to see Ryan on the ticket:

If Ryan is named to the ticket and the ticket loses, the loss will discredit the Ryan budget, and empower those in the Republican Party who want to pivot back to the center. Whereas conservatives have some chance of winning the intraparty argument if Romney/Portman loses — “we shouldn’t have nominated the insincere moderate,” they’ll say — they have little chance of arguing that the Republican Party simply didn’t run hard enough on the Ryan budget if Romney/Ryan loses.

Nor is Ryan suffering from a dearth of influence right now. He’s proving perfectly able to set the agenda of the Republican Party — and of most every Republican presidential contender, including Romney — from his perch as Chairman of the House Budget Committee. Perhaps he would be slightly more effective at leading the Republican Party and setting the terms of the national debate as president. But he’d be certainly be vastly less effective at all that as vice president.

As vice president, he would be a soldier in the Romney White House — which most everyone expects to be cautious, pragmatic, and dominated by establishment figures. In the Romney White House, CEO Mitt Romney will set the strategy, and there’s little evidence that his instincts match Ryan’s preference for detailed, sweeping plans. So conservatives would have taken Ryan out of the House, where he’s proven himself able to drive the Republican Party’s agenda and force presidential candidates to sign onto his vision, and jammed him into a subordinate role in the executive branch, where he’d be duty-bound to fall in line behind President Romney’s agenda.

There’s no question that, if Romney chooses Ryan, Democrats will make the Ryan Plan one of the central planks of the campaign against the ticket. Given the poll numbers noted above, there’s no question it could be damaging to the GOP in swing states. The Journal is correct that the Obama campaign is likely to hit on the Ryan plan regardless of who the nominee is, but the if Ryan is on the ticket those attacks are going to become even more intensified. As for the argument that there’s no one better to defend the Ryan Plan then Ryan, there’s no reason he cannot do that as a campaign surrogate which he will clearly be throughout the campaign.

The real question is what Ryan adds to the ticket that, from the point of view of conservatives, would be better than having him as Chairman of the House Budget Committee and headlining Republican budget efforts on Capitol Hill. As Klein says, as Vice-President Ryan would be in a relatively powerless, largely ceremonial position and someone potentially less effective would be in his Chairman’s position. He’s have to toe the Romney Administration line, and the House GOP would lose his voice on Capitol Hill during what is likely to be very contentious budget negotiations beginning almost as soon as Congress returns in January.  What’s the point of that, conservatives?

More importantly, one has to wonder why Ryan would want to take the position at this point in his political career. It would be a tremendous honor, no doubt, and the possibility exists that if the ticket wins he would automatically become the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2020, but would he really want to sit around for eight years towing the Romney line and going to funerals? And what if the ticket loses? In that event, Ryan would still be able to go back to Congress in 2013 because Wisconsin law allows him to be on the ballot for both VPOTUS and his Congressional seat if it were necessary. However, his political power would be substantially reduced. If the perception is created that a Romney/Ryan ticket lost because of the Ryan Plan, then you’re likely to see Republicans backing away from it for the sake of their own careers. More importantly for Ryan, though, being on the bottom half of a losing ticket would essentially mean that his political career will be limited to Congress. In all of American history, only one losing Vice-Presidential nominee has ever been subsequently election President. That man was Franklin Roosevelt, who was the 1920 Democratic nominee for Vice-President when James Cox lost to Warren Harding, and then became the Democratic nominee for POTUS in 1932 under what were rather unique historical circumstances. Many people have stayed in Congress after losing a Presidential race (John McCain, John Kerry, Joe Liberman, and Ted Kennedy come to mind), but none of them have gone any further in their political careers after that. Why would Ryan want to take that risk at the young age of 42?

It’s also unclear why Romney would want to take the Journal’s advice here. In addition to the political risks noted above, there really doesn’t seem to be anything that Romney adds to the ticket that any of the other potential candidates wouldn’t also add. Political experience? Portman, Pawlenty, Jindal, and the others all have that. What Ryan doesn’t have, though, is executive experience, which the others have. Additionally as Chris Cillizza and David Graham point out, Ryan has never campaigned outside his Congressional District and he’s known more for being a policy guy than a political guy. Finally, Ryan doesn’t strick me as having that “pitbull” attitude that campaigns often like the Vice-Presidential candidate to display on the campaign trial.

We’re likely only days away from Romney’s announcement. The conventional wisdom is that it will come sometime after the Olympics end, and that period beginning this coming Monday. Perhaps Romney will pick Ryan after all and we’ll see if these observations pan out. In the end, though, I think it’s going to come down to Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty, and Bobby Jindal. The smart money seems to be on Portman still, but there has been a lot of chatter about T-Paw lately as well. If Romney wants a “safe” pick he’ll go with one of those and, as Matt Lewis says today, if he wants an exciting pick that’s also relatively safe, he’ll may as well go with Jindal. I don’t see Ryan in the mix, and I don’t understand why conservatives are so eager to see him on the ticket.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    I’m calling Jindal.

  2. There would be some intellectual honesty in picking Ryan, just because the Ryan plan is the Romney plan.

    It is kind of absurd that the “smart” Republicans want to keep the plan, and just soft-pedal it.

  3. @Jeremy:

    Perhaps, if he knows he will never be a real presidential contender, and is willing to throw himself on the hand grenade.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    From the WSJ editorial — “Against the advice of every Beltway bedwetter, he has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts.”

    Exactly. Why wait for for the crisis to start the savage cuts when they are needed to balance the budget, when we can cut now and give more tax cuts to the 1% in the meantime?

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Honestly, I’d love for Romney to select Paul Ryan as his running mate.

    It would make the 2012 choices perfectly clear. Vote Republican and you’re voting for a plan to reduce the top tax bracket from 34% to 25%, to begin privatization of Medicare, all the while increasing defense spending and, according to their own budget projections, widening budget deficits.

    I suspect that Romney does not want Ryan on the ticket because the presence of Ryan would remind people that the GOP is serious about shifting hundreds of billions of dollars more in medical expenses onto retired Americans.

  6. @Moosebreath:

    Good point. The plan to save middle class retirees is to cut taxes on Mitt Romney.

  7. sam says:

    “The real question is what Ryan adds to the ticket”

    The orgasmic factor should not be underestimated.

  8. Scott says:

    “…without the rancor and polarization that have defined Mr. Obama’s Presidency.” I love when items like this are written. Really?? And just who caused the rancor and polorization? We are going on 3 years of a collective temper tantrum of the right and they say it will end when they get their way. I don’t give in to tantrums from my kids and I’m certainly not going to give in to the right.

    I kind of agree with Frum and say that if Romney picks Ryan, then the Ryan backers will own Romney lock, stock, and barrel.

  9. Modulo Myself says:

    I can’t believe that they would pick Jindal. The guy was once involved in an exorcism. That’s one step removed from handling snakes or speaking in tongues.

    I wouldn’t be surprised with Chris Christie. He’s a former lobbyist and he also enjoys eating and yelling at people in unions who ask him questions, so he should be the yin to Romney’s repressed yang.

  10. Herb says:

    I don’t understand why conservatives are so eager to see him on the ticket.

    Quoting Frum again:

    The clamor you are hearing for Paul Ryan for VP is not about helping the Romney candidacy. It’s about controlling the Romney campaign—and ultimately the Romney presidency. It’s about forcing a platform on Romney, and then dictating the agenda for that presidency’s first year.

  11. steve says:

    Because Ryan looks good on TV, and they would have their next presidential candidate lined up. When did policy start to matter?

    Steve

  12. @steve:

    Do failed VP candidates really carry positive mojo?

  13. Latino_in_Boston says:

    I highly suspect that conservatives really want Romney for two reasons:

    a) they believe their own bs about the popularity of the Ryan plan. Of course everyone wants to slash entitlement spending, right? Right, guys? Guys?

    b) they still don’t trust Romney. Having Ryan on the ticket is a bigger buy-in, and it would be difficult for Mitt to move away from that agenda if he gets elected. As it is, Romney could still turn out to be a more moderate candidate than the Right wants.

  14. G.A. says:

    Why go with a serious intelligent rock star from Wisconsin who understands the economy and has a plan to fix it?Why go with a guy with charisma who knows how to take the complicated and make it simple when he speaks it?Why would you want to win Wisconsin and ensure that the republican candidate for the US senate also wins..Why pick an OG tea party guy when a lot of people still think that you are a weredonkey?

    Ya he would be a terrible VP pick…..lol…let him pick one of them guys Doug said and lose everything…

  15. Moosebreath says:

    @sam:

    “The orgasmic factor should not be underestimated.”

    I dunno — did it help that much with Palin (and yes, Ryan is a more serious person than Palin, but on the other hand, as the Ryan budget gets debated, he may be even more toxic).

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Romney picking Ryan would be taking a powerful ally and turning him into a powerless lackey. Romney would be a fool to offer it, and Ryan a bigger fool to take it.

  17. @this:

    Dear down-voter. This is the problem running a rich guy, especially a guy born rich, to cut taxes on the rich. It is going to look like naked self-interest. A guy poor, or at least born poor, can tell a story a little more subtle. “Cut taxes on them” he can say “in order to help us.”

    Rather than just “Cut taxes on us, and we might help you.”

    It’s funny how Republicans fault rich Democrats, when they actually have the more subtle and less self-interested story. “Tax people like me” say people like Buffett, only to be denounced as class traitors.

  18. Janiah says:

    I agree with G.A., although I think he’s going to pick Jindal. Who is also a better pick than most think.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    I’m rooting for Ryan bigtime. Obama would love to run against the Ryan plan, and with Ryan on the ticket, it’ll be tough for Romney to Etch a Sketch himself away from it. If we can’t have Ryan, can we please have Tim Pawlentzzzzzzz. Sorry, nodded off there for a moment.

  20. al-Ameda says:

    Above all, Americans are hungry for leadership. They want leaders willing to take on the hard issues, preferably without the rancor and polarization that have defined Mr. Obama’s Presidency.

    Really, what else can we expect from WSJ editoria and op-ed writers?

    Republicans have created the said ‘rancor and polarization’ we’ve experienced since Obama’s inauguration, and what they’re now saying is, ‘just give back the government and the economy we crashed 3 years ago and we’ll stop being rancorous and polarizing.’

  21. legion says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    The guy was once involved in an exorcism. That’s one step removed from handling snakes or speaking in tongues.

    You’re right, in that Jindal’s… “non-mainstream” religious background would just raise more questions about the entire ticket’s religions bona fides, and give the Evangelicals a batch of aneurisms, but it’s also exactly the kind of poorly thought-out, amateur hour move I’ve come to expect from the Romney campaign.

  22. wr says:

    @G.A.: “Why go with a serious intelligent rock star from Wisconsin who understands the economy and has a plan to fix it?”

    Steve Miller? Robin Zander? Jane Wiedlin? The Wisconsin rock star pickings are kind of slim…

  23. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Well, a lot of conservatives out there are lost in space.

    Ryan’s never attempted a run at a major office much less prevailed in one. Within the confines of Wisconsin Scott Walker and Ron Johnson are much better options. And for reasons as obvious as basic arithmetic you simply can’t tap Ryan when you have available the likes of Rubio, Portman, McDonnell, Toomey, etc.

    As inept as Team Romney often is I don’t envision them picking Ryan. There’s retard and then there’s full retard. They might fall into the former category but not the latter. Presumably.

  24. sam says:

    @G.A.:

    Why go with a guy with charisma who knows how to take the complicated and make it simple when he speaks it?

    He must have made it pretty simple. But, hey, did you miss the part where the more folks find out about the Ryan plan, the less they like it? You know, this part:

    As for the Ryan plan itself, almost as soon as the plan was introduced last year, Republicans have faced hostility regarding it from voters back home. Shortly thereafter, the polling started coming in and it was not 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.

  25. Alanmt says:

    Paul would be a decent choice because:

    1. He is attractive;
    2. He seems serious;
    3. He would add policy and intellectual legitimacy; and
    4. He doesn’t seem crazy.

    He may have some appeal to the libertarian undecideds while not driving away the social conservatives.

    I think he would add to the ticket as a whole, even though his presence wouldn’t change my mind and make me want to vote for Romney. I think his budget plan is ill-conceived and I stand with the people who realize that raising taxes is necessary to resolve the budget and deficit problems.

  26. beth says:

    A powerless job? Have you all forgotten Dick Cheney already?

  27. stonetools says:

    Aint gonna happen. Can you imagine the VP debate? Biden: ” Isn’t it true that you want to privatize Medicare, Mr. Ryan?” It would be a massacre, because that would be just the start. Even the Romney campaign wouldn’t commit an own goal like that.

  28. MBunge says:

    @Modulo Myself: “I wouldn’t be surprised with Chris Christie.”

    From what we’ve seen of Romney, there’s no way he could tolerate that forceful a personality around him all the time.

    Mike

  29. Loviatar says:

    Behind The Steely New Democratic Resolve

    “The biggest thing that changed was there was a major shift in the overall environment when it comes to the tax debate,” the Democratic aide said, crediting the Occupy Wall Street movement for helping make the wealth disparity a national issue. “People increasingly think the system is rigged to benefit those at the top.”

  30. al-Ameda says:

    @Alanmt:

    Paul would be a decent choice because:
    1. He is attractive;
    2. He seems serious;
    3. He would add policy and intellectual legitimacy; and
    4. He doesn’t seem crazy.

    Except for Number 1, that’s pretty much correct. I’d love to see Romney out there supporting the idea that we must begin the privatization of MediCare, shift hundred of billions of dollars in medical expenses to future generations of retired Americans.

  31. Mike says:

    @john personna: Exactly – if the Ryan “plan” is the Awesome, get it out there front and center – run on it. Why does it need to be soft-pedaled? They don’t think it’s unpopular, do they?

  32. Mike says:

    @G.A.: Who are you referring to? Are you commenting on a different post?

  33. C. Clavin says:

    Ryan is a fraud.
    Romney is a fraud.
    Perfect team.

  34. C. Clavin says:

    @ Mike…
    GA is commenting on a different planet.

  35. An Interested Party says:

    I’m calling Jindal.

    Oh great…tax cuts and exorcisms for everyone…talk about fantasies…

  36. grumpy realist says:

    There’s a twerp over at the Daily Beast who is suggesting that the person to rescue Mitt from dire disaster is–drumroll–Newt Gingrich.

    I don’t know which would be more amusing to watch–a Romney/Ryan pairing or a Romney/Gingrich pairing.

  37. rudderpedals says:

    @grumpy realist: Right on. Yesterday Ryan, today Newt and Rubio. Notice how the roulette wheel spins faster and faster.

    Can we expect another bogus Drudge announcement to help sow confusion over the weekend?

  38. G.A. says:

    Steve Miller? Robin Zander? Jane Wiedlin? The Wisconsin rock star pickings are kind of slim…

    wr, lol, you finally made a funny, good job:)-

  39. anjin-san says:

    I’m not sure that Jindal has ever recovered from being nailed on fibs about his Katrina heroism during his aborted national rollout.