Paul Ryan as VP Choice: First Thoughts

He's no Sarah Palin but Paul Ryan doesn't make immediate sense as Romney's running mate.

Well, it’s official: Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate. I’m intrigued by the choice but skeptical.

Romney’s pick is certainly a better pick than John McCain’s. When the news broke four years ago that McCain had chosen Sarah Palin, I was dumbfounded:

Aside from being young and hot-for-a-politician, though, Palin undercuts McCain’s entire campaign theme. She’s got less political experience and less foreign policy experience than Obama.

[…]

I’d never heard of Palin before the VP buzz started on the blogs a while back. She’s supposedly an excellent campaigner. And, obviously, her youth and gender make her a bold pick. Ultimately, though, I think she doesn’t make sense. If you’re running on “the country’s security is too important to be run by neophytes,” you can’t have one as next in line.

While Joe Biden was, twice, an awful presidential candidate, he’s a plausible president. Sarah Palin is not.

[…]

She’s going to make us pine for the days of Dan Quayle, methinks.

[…]

We’ll see what the reaction turns out to be.  I’m certainly not the target audience.  But McCain’s first big decision is, in my mind, a truly awful one.   Obama went traditional but steady in Biden.  It wasn’t a bold pick but it was one that butressed his claim that he has judgment even though he lacks experience.   McCain has done the opposite here.

Again, that was my instant reaction. Regular readers know that Palin did not grow on me as I learned more; indeed, the opposite was true.

While also very young, Ryan is no Sarah Palin. He’s been on Capitol Hill for two decades, first as a staffer and speechwriter and since 1999 a Representative, and is by all accounts enormously bright and hard working. Joe Scarborough raves about how impressive Ryan was as a 22-year-old staffer and Harold Ford, Jr., a moderate Democrat, has very nice things to say about him.

Further, Ryan arguably bolsters Romney’s core message, which is that he’s a fiscally conservative businessman with the skills to fix an ailing economy and get our fiscal house in order. While the Ryan Plan is controversial, it at least has the virtues of being a plan—which is more than Obama and company have offered—and addressing the real train wreck that is Medicare. Ultimately, I don’t see Ryan’s rather radical solution as politically feasible or even necessarily desirable; but he’s looking in the right direction.

And, of course, Ryan is very attractive to conservatives skeptical of Romney’s fealty to The Movement and could get them excited enough to not only vote but encourage their neighbors to do the same. That could matter.

Still, while my instant reaction is much more positive than it was four years ago, I don’t yet understand the logic of this pick.

First, Ryan probably doesn’t help give Romney a major swing state. He’s never run state-wide in Wisconsin and it’s likely that the state will go to the Democrats no matter what.

Second, he’s a mere Representative. Outside of the sort of political junkies who read political blogs, few people have heard of him. Nor does he carry the gravitas that comes with a governorship or even the Senate.

Third, he doesn’t shore up any major weakness of Romney’s.

On paper, at least, I’d have preferred a Rob Portman—who also doubles down on Romney’s fiscal strength but  brings foreign policy experience from his tenure as US Trade Representative. Or, if he thought a “bold choice” was necessary, he could have gone with Chris Christie (assuming he was willing), who would have been an effective attack dog on the stump.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    The Romney campaign’s internal polling must be awful.
    Can’t see how picking Ryan will get independents to vote for Romney, but I guess it will ease how the base feels about Romney.

  2. PogueMahone says:

    America, you can go back to sleep now.

  3. Hal 10000 says:

    Did you read the New Yorker profile of Ryan? He’s a really interesting guy. If we could swap the VP and Prez candidates, I would be delighted. But a part of me wonders if this isn’t an attempt to isolate Ryan into a powerless position so the GOP doesn’t have to make the hard choices.

  4. KariQ says:

    To tighten it up a little, you seem to be saying the Ryan pick is a head scratcher, but not a jaw dropper.

  5. Lib Cap says:

    Hmmmm…

    How ’bout that.

    Bishop Willard, knowing he is going down in flames, is trying not to get pilloried by the usual kind-hearted sensitive conservative orators.

    Well, I guess If you can’t win, ya may as well make the far far far right happier by getting the biggest douche up there on stage with you.

    Yeah.

    Good luck with that.

    .

    Wonkette does a nice summary:

    http://wonkette.com/480764/meet-your-new-vice-presidential-candidate-the-one-and-only-historys-greatest-monster-paul-ryan

  6. C. Clavin says:

    “…While the Ryan Plan is controversial, it at least has the virtues of being a plan—which is more than Obama and company have offered—and addressing the real train wreck that is Medicare…”

    I suppose eliminating Medicare as it is currently known can be considered addressing it.
    Of course the problem with Medicare is the cost of Health Care…Ryan’s plan simply shifts costs and does not address the root of the problem. The PPACA does address the root of the problem…although it could be better…and the cost curve is being turned down by it.

    “…In August 2011, the actuary projected that the Part B premium for 2012 would be $106.60, but the actual premium was set in November at only $99.90. A much broader indicator of a slowing trend is the fact that growth in Medicare outlays per enrollee in 2010 and 2011 was roughly in line with growth in the economy (see graphExcess Medicare Spending Growth.). And in January 2012, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) made a $69 billion downward revision to its 10-year Medicare spending projection — a technical correction that reflects emerging data showing surprisingly slow growth in outlays. Similar slowing trends have led to positive earnings surprises for publicly traded insurers…”

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1201853?query=TOC
    But I understand you are a supporter and must say the right things…if only for self-justification.

    Big picture…the pick of Ryan just made this race about Medicare, and not the economy. Cue the AARP.

  7. Facebones says:

    This pick is Romney trying to sway two groups of people:

    1) The Tea Party base, who obviously still don’t trust or like Romney.

    2) The Very Serious pundits in DC who get a raging hard-on whenever a politician mentions “sacrifice” (so long as that sacrifice is aimed at the poor and middle class.)

    But beyond that, Romney just wrote off Florida and may have even put Arizona in play. Get ready for thousands of ads about Ryan’s Medicare- killing budget plan that Romney just endorsed.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    While the Ryan Plan is controversial,

    It is an albatross around the collective necks of the Republican Party. Tax cuts for the Rich, Medicare cuts for us, and Deficits as far as the eye can see. While Romney was always going to have to deal with that spectacle of Gilded Age nonsense, he has now directly hitched his horse to it.

    This is the beginning of the end of the Romney campaign.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @C. Clavin: @OzarkHillbilly: The only thing that I can think of in this regard is that Team Romney figured that they were going to have to deal with the Ryan Plan regardless, so they might as well have its best spokesman on the stump. I’m skeptical of that.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Ultimately, I don’t see Ryan’s rather radical solution as politically feasible or even necessarily desirable; but he’s looking in the right direction.

    If it isn’t desirable, how can it be “the right direction”?

  11. DRS says:

    Strange choice for a candidate who thinks Obama doesn’t have the experience to be president – a guy who’s been a professional political staffer and then a politician all his life. Kind of like McCain claiming the same thing then making a pick who’d only been governor for less than a year. Both Palin and Ryan are flavours-of-the-month for wingnuts – and to crown the similarities, William Kristol is in favor of both.

    Yup, Kristol puts the cherry on the sundae – Romney is doomed.

  12. That said, if Romney is referring to the nonsense that Harry Reid continues to pull, then he has a point. That’s an unwarranted personal attack that we should assume Reid is lying about until he actually presents evidence supporting his assertion.

    So call the Obama plan a continuation of status quo. That should be pretty easy to beat, right?

    Except oops, the Ryan/Romney plan increases deficits over the status quo.

    Do you really favor that?

  13. DRS says:

    I would also put forward a quote by David Frum with which I totally agree:

    Yet it’s also true that Ryan has been pushed forward by people who do not much like or respect Mitt Romney, precisely with a view to constraining and controlling a Romney presidency. By acceding to that pressure…Romney has transformed a campaign about jobs and growth into a campaign about entitlements and Medicare. Romney will now have to spend the next months explaining how and why shrinking Medicare after 2023 will create prosperity in 2013. Economic conditions are so tough—the Obama reelection proposition is so weak—that Romney may win anyway. But wow, the job just got harder.

    Sorry James, but Frum is so rarely spot-on I did feel it’s worth noting. I promise not to link-whore the site.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    Government doesn’t create jobs…but Ryan has been suckling on the teet of Government his entire adult life.
    His education was paid by SS survivor benefits.
    His hometown benefits massively from Government spending…

    “…One of these supporters, John Beckord, explains to Lizza how Janesville became so prosperous. There was one more success story that Beckord wanted to share. A few years ago, he had a melanoma that was treated with a radioactive isotope; this isotope is administered to fifty-five thousand patients a day but has a half-life of sixty-six hours after manufacture, so it must be delivered quickly. The isotope, known as a medical tracer, is made outside the United States by a complicated process requiring highly enriched uranium from nuclear reactors. The government offered twenty-five-million-dollar matching grants to companies that could devise a way to produce the material domestically, without using enriched uranium. “Two of the four companies that won that competition, incredibly, are going to build plants in our county, and one of them is going to be in Janesville,” Beckord said. In May, the federal government announced that it would contribute more than ten million dollars to the new facility, which could employ some hundred and fifty people…”

    I bet the staff at Obama headquarters in Chicago are dancing on the tables.

  15. oops, my paste above was wrong. Sorry about that. It should have been:

    While the Ryan Plan is controversial, it at least has the virtues of being a plan—which is more than Obama and company have offered—and addressing the real train wreck that is Medicare.

    If I recall correctly, James supports letting all the Bush tax cuts expire. I’d be OK with that. If I recall correctly, he doesn’t like Obama’s plan of expiring all but the top bracket cut because that would be class warfare.

    I really think that puts James mathematically closer to Obama than to Ryan’s further cuts across the board.

    But you know, politics is a team sport.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The isotope, known as a medical tracer, is made outside the United States by a complicated process requiring highly enriched uranium from nuclear reactors.

    I wonder if it is the same isotope that this 14 yr old boy wonder is working on.

    Seriously, click thru and read the article (when you have the time), He built a desk top fusion reactor, it is “The Radioactive Boy Scout” with a good ending

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I figured it out. Romney/Ryan… RRRonald Reagan…. Ronnie is about the last thread of sanity today’s GOP has to hang onto.

  18. stonetools says:

    Just the saw the announcement. First thoughts:

    1. Anti-government spending Romney/Ryan made their announcement in Norfolk, a place that would shrivel and die in the absence of government spending on one of the biggest naval facilities in the world.

    2. Romney is still hammering on that “Obama-is-gutting-welfare” lie. So much for true, issues-based discussion

    3.Bob McDonnell did the warm up. Still surprised HE wasn’t chosen.

    4. Biggest applause line- ” Our rights come from God and nature, not from government.” Ah, but who secures those rights, according to one T. Jefferson?

    5. Foreign policy is officially dead to the Romney campaign, apart from the most important foreign country in the world, Israel.

    As to why Ryan, why, its because the Tea Party demanded it-and in this Republican Party, they get what they want. You’re welcome.

  19. Herb says:

    My first thought: This will sell a lot of bumper stickers, but they’ll all be scraped off within a year of Obama’s second term.

  20. Perhaps Massachusetts Mitt is letting the party go down by the path they demand.

    He hasn’t run a real smart campaign on a day to day level, but he may know in some part of his soul that demands from his base aren’t getting him there. We’ve said that the right won’t understand the gravity of their error until the run right. They’ve maintained that all they need to do is run right.

    It’s a good test all around.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    We’ve said that the right won’t understand the gravity of their error until the run right. They’ve maintained that all they need to do is run right.

    It’s a good test all around.

    Yeah, but John when the test comes back with the inevitable “F” they’ll just say,”The teacher hates me!” wad the test up and throw it into the trash bin without ever looking at it to see what answers they got wrong. Come 2016, they will party like it’s ’64.

  22. al-Ameda says:

    Further, Ryan arguably bolsters Romney’s core message, which is that he’s a fiscally conservative businessman with the skills to fix an ailing economy and get our fiscal house in order. While the Ryan Plan is controversial, it at least has the virtues of being a plan—which is more than Obama and company have offered—and addressing the real train wreck that is Medicare. Ultimately, I don’t see Ryan’s rather radical solution as politically feasible or even necessarily desirable; but he’s looking in the right direction.

    Just having a plan – no matter how bad it is – is a virtue?

  23. steve says:

    Ryan looks good on TV. He sounds convincing if you dont the data well enough to dispute what he says (he obviously reads and knows the think tank stuff from AEI and Cato). He will energize the base, which has, apparently, been the Romney plan all along. For those of us who prioritize foreign policy, this is a poor choice, but I think we are a small minority. In a turn out the vote election, I think this was about as good a choice as Romney could make (Christie criticizes Muslim bigotry and may not be solidly pro-life, so he is ruled out). I think Dems are in trouble if they underestimate him. He has been a full time political creature since he left college. He speaks well and will perform well on the talk shows.

    Steve

  24. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: I’d let the Bush tax cuts expire absent a more mature approach. I’d much prefer a cleaner tax code with far fewer loopholes, including corporate welfare.

    @john personna: The problem is that, if Romney loses, the base will forget that Ryan was on the ticket and take away the message that nominating moderates is a losing strategy. Whether Romney’s actually a moderate is irrelevant; the base perceives him as such.

    @al-Ameda: I think Ryan’s thinking is in the right direction and he at least has a bold plan that targets the key problem areas. Even if he were at the top of the ticket and it won by a landslide, the Ryan Plan would be the start of negotiations, not the final outcome. But, yeah, it beats ignoring the problem and hoping it’ll go away.

    Again, i’m not excited about the choice. I really only have a cursory knowledge of Ryan at this point. So, while I reserve the right to decide the choice is a bad one as I learn more, I find it intriguing. And I’m someone who was immediately against the Palin pick.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s my psychobabble analysis: Ryan looks like a younger Mitt Romney. They look like father and son. So Romney is basically playing out his daddy issues.

    There you go, our hour is up and that’ll be $250, pay at the desk.

  26. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s this obsession with generic ‘boldness’ that was partially responsible for landing us in Iraq. That plan too was filled with fantasy scenarios. Ryan’s plan is the same thing–tax cuts generating record growth, the magic of the free market rectifying the fact that it is highly unprofitable to insure the elderly (though current seniors should note that none of said magic shall ever be applied to their Medicare.) It’s like Enron in 2001, right before their ‘bold’ accounting began to show the strain.

  27. Modulo Myself says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m glad someone else noticed the mini-me thing. It’s actually a bit creepy. When was the last father-son ticket? I’m thinking Eisenhower and Nixon?

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    @al-Ameda: I think Ryan’s thinking is in the right direction and he at least has a bold plan that targets the key problem areas.

    The problem is that Ryan’s ‘key problem area’ is retired middle class Americans. He wants to cut the top tax bracket rate from 34% to 25%, cut the capital gains tax rate, increase defense spending, all while beginning the privatization of Medicare, and running out deficits from 2013 to 2023. All of this will will be at the expense of middle class Americans.

    I see no virtue in the Ryan Plan, one that further diminishes the standard of living for middle class Americans.

  29. @James Joyner:

    I’d let the Bush tax cuts expire absent a more mature approach. I’d much prefer a cleaner tax code with far fewer loopholes, including corporate welfare.

    The problem is that we are being offered a bad plan and a worse plan.

    I’m worried that too many RINOs will back the worse plan out of team spirit.

    Of course they can name bad things about the bad plan, but that does not actually make the worse plan any better.

  30. anjin-san says:

    It’s not a mystery. The political pros in the Romney campaign and the GOP in general see through all the hype in the media about a close election. They looked at the electoral trending and they saw Romeny getting smoked in November.

    So now it’s Hail Mary time.

  31. @James Joyner:

    Even if he were at the top of the ticket and it won by a landslide, the Ryan Plan would be the start of negotiations, not the final outcome. But, yeah, it beats ignoring the problem and hoping it’ll go away.

    See, that’s the team spirit clouding your mind. Why on earth would a worse plan be a better starting point?

    Why the heck isn’t the Grand Bargain, still the best deal in recent history, the starting point?

  32. anjin-san says:

    I think Dems are in trouble if they underestimate him

    I’m inclined to agree there. Ryan provides the polished public persona that Romney so clearly lacks.

  33. stonetools says:

    Within the DC chattering classes, Ryan gets credit for “having a plan” -with figures, graphs, and equations, even.He’s the Republican’s ” intellectual” -who can outsmart that Harvard Law guy in the Whiite House. The problem is, that when “real” intellectuals look at Ryan’s plan, its really :

    1.an idealogical statement dressed up as a plan. it days , “We’re going to take away the very idea of entitlements” , while decreasing taxes on “the deserving.”
    2. It doesn’t add up by a long shot, even assuming a best case scenario.

    It drives folks like Krugman (who can do math ) crazy that the Ryan plan is seen as an actual, rational plan, that would succeed if passed into law. Its not. Not everything called a plan is a plan.

  34. anjin-san says:

    Why the heck isn’t the Grand Bargain, still the best deal in recent history, the starting point?

    Why indeed.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Bush-Quayle.

  36. David M says:

    I see the Ryan pick as more of a desperate move than the Palin pick. It’s completely aimed at reassuring the base and conservative pundits, instead of the general electorate though.

  37. wr says:

    @Modulo Myself: You know who had a really bold plan? Pol Pot. Nothing half-assed about his plan. He had a vision, and he was willing to do whatever it took to achieve it.

    History is full of bold planners much like him.

    Why anyone would consider a plan good simply because it’s “bold” without actually contemplating what’s in it is beyond me.

  38. wr says:

    @Modulo Myself: “When was the last father-son ticket? I’m thinking Eisenhower and Nixon?”

    Cheney-Bush?

  39. Ben Wolf says:

    In all seriousness, can someone explain how Ryan has earned the reputation of being “extremely bright”? His budgets have been not only lacking in detailed thought but poorly written by someone who demonstrates a rather heavy-handed usage of the language. I personally have seen no evidence of his vast intellect, so where can I go to find it? And don’t bother recommending the New Yorker profile, which paints an image of a man handed everything he has in life yet insists this is proof of his “intelligence”. I read the piece twice and came away with the impression he doesn’t understand budgets, his supposed area of mastery.

  40. David M says:

    @Ben Wolf: He is a Republican so it’s not a high bar to pass. His policies may be a joke, but somehow they manage to look good when compared to what the rest of the GOP puts forward. I’m completely serious by the way.

  41. Dazedandconfused says:

    I watched Ryan speak on the tube in Virginia today. He’s a much, much better campaigner than Mitt. Had the crowd hopping.

    There’s a (the?) plus.

  42. Katharsis says:

    Shows how much I know about these things. I thought no way in hell would Romney go there. I would have bet money that it was going to be Rob Portman. He seemed like the-wizard-behind-the-curtain type which could do a lot for conservatives while quietly hiding behind fox news distractions.

    As for Romney’s Hail Mary pick I was thinking Newt Gingrich. Gingrich would provide lots of attention for the campaign while being denied any real power in the White House.

    I never thought Romney would be this stupid to actually pick Paul Ryan. I can’t wait for Joe Biden to debate the guy who takes government money and says none for you.

  43. anjin-san says:

    I watched Ryan speak on the tube in Virginia today. He’s a much, much better campaigner than Mitt.

    I think on the whole, Ryan is a liability. But there is no doubt that he has skills, and he should not be underestimated.

    One potential problem for the GOP is that he will probably badly outshine Romney, and people are electing a President.

  44. al-Ameda says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    I watched Ryan speak on the tube in Virginia today. He’s a much, much better campaigner than Mitt. Had the crowd hopping.
    There’s a (the?) plus.

    The bar is low, Palin had them wetting their beds. The Republican base loves this privatize Medicare and reduce taxes on the top wage earners crap.

  45. Dazedandconfused says:

    @al-Ameda:

    “If you can get people who haven’t a pot to piss in to leave their double wides, put on tri-corner hats, and march on Washington to demand that rich people shouldn’t be taxed, that’s leadership!” -Lewis Black (sorta)

    About the only thing Mitt can do that might cause people to think of standing up and clapping after hearing him speak is offering a $100 bill to those that do it. It’s an important part of this.

  46. jukeboxgrad says:

    michael:

    Romney is basically playing out his daddy issues.

    I think this makes a lot of sense. He has five sons, all at least 30, and none have gone into politics (one is supposedly interested, but hasn’t done it). Also notice that Mitt’s first son and Ryan are the exact same age (born 12 days apart).

    My sense of Mitt (utterly speculative, of course) is that he could be helped a lot by a good shrink but never had one, and never will. He is not likable because he is uncomfortable in his own skin, and this has to do with his unresolved issues.

    A life of privilege means everyone around you compensates for you, instead of pressuring you to resolve your issues and stop being a jerk. So you glide along, but eventually they bite you in the ass and limit your potential. This is what’s going on with Mitt.

    al-ameda:

    I see no virtue in the Ryan Plan

    The Ryan plan is an attempt to solve the following problem: poor people aren’t poor enough and rich people aren’t rich enough.

    anjin:

    Ryan provides the polished public persona that Romney so clearly lacks.

    Yes, but this cuts both ways, as you said (“he will probably badly outshine Romney”). It’s quite similar to the McCain/Palin dynamic. McCain picked someone more exciting and vivacious than him, but this underlined that he lacked those qualities. This led to certain people saying the ticket should be reversed, and now we’re going to hear some of that again. Probably from the exact same people.

    david:

    He is a Republican so it’s not a high bar to pass.

    Exactly. Serious people like Richard Posner have written about the intellectual decline of the GOP. Ryan’s elevation as an alleged intellectual is a symptom. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

    This also reminds me of what Krugman said about Newt: “he’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.”