Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Almost all the coverage of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate has focused on what the young congressman will bring to the ticket—which I analyzed as well here.

But there’s been virtually no discussion of how he might help Romney if he’s actually elected president. Here’s my own speculation, based on no discussions with Beltway insiders: he’ll no longer be a big obstacle to a President Romney’s agenda, but will instead have to get behind it, even if he disagrees.

I know this isn’t the conventional wisdom. Conservatives have been cheering Ryan’s selection, and some of the most influential—The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal editorial page—lobbied for him heavily in the days before he was selected. Ryan is a hero for championing an austerity budget that in its various manifestations would slash domestic discretionary spending to the bone and move Medicare to a voucher system, which is conservatives’ answer to everything (along with tax cuts, of course).

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan on 60 Minutes. Photo: CBS News/Chris Usher.

But have you listened carefully to what Romney has actually said and what his surrogates have carefully echoed? Here’s what he told Bob Schieffer on 60 Minutes with Ryan sitting right beside him:

Well, I have my budget plan as you know that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.

And here is Romney describing what Ryan’s role would be in a Romney administration:

Well, I anticipate that there will be certain areas that are his areas of expertise…that he’ll actually take a lead role in helping oversee those areas and maybe some cabinet officers who will work primarily with the vice president. But he would also have a role in helping shepherd legislation on the Hill. Of course, you have a legislative affairs director that takes that kind of lead as well, but you can’t imagine having someone like Paul Ryan, who’s been able to work with Democrat senators, Democrat members of the House as well as Republicans, been able to make things happen there. I can’t imagine not using him.

Doesn’t sound like Paul Ryan would be an imperial vice president like, say, Dick Cheney, does it? In fact, sounds to me as if Romney already has a subsidiary role carved out for him.

Say what you want about Romney, but he’s a smart cookie who has ample experience in dealing with executives and boards of directors. He knows how to find talent and use it to his advantage and he knows how to fire executives or sideline them, if need be.

And he knows that as chairman of the House Budget committee, Ryan has enormous power, the kind that can make or break House Speakers—as John Boehner has learned the hard way—or even presidents. Ryan also has a huge independent base of support in the GOP, of which he’s considered the intellectual leader.

We don’t know many specifics of Romney’s tax and budget plan, but we do know that whatever they are he wouldn’t want them blocked by a powerful House budget chairman of his own party. Wouldn’t it be even better if Ryan was selling the most unpalatable aspects of a Romney budget to friends and former colleagues in Congress rather than opposing them openly?

As President Lyndon Johnson once said about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

Mitt Romney surely wouldn’t put it that way, but his actions  speak even louder than his words.

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