The selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate shows three things about the Republican presidential candidate.
First, Romney actually has it in him to take chances. “I think this is the boldest thing I’ve seen Romney do in six to eight years,” veteran GOP operative Ed Rollins said on Fox and Friends Saturday.
The former Massachusetts governor has been famously risk-averse since he extracted a promise that he could return to his job at Bain Consulting if his new venture, Bain Capital, flopped. His primary and general election campaigns have been based on money, organization and a three-yards-and-a-cloud-dust philosophy. The Ryan pick changes all that.
Second, Romney is still trying to win over the Republican base.
Since the primaries, conservatives and Tea Party adherents have repeatedly held the candidate’s feet to the fire. Every slight deviation from either the moral precepts of the Christian right or the litmus tests of Rush Limbaugh was greeted with storms of outrage that forced Romney to backpedal. Judging from the crowd’s excited reaction to Ryan’s speech on the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va., the Ryan choice will please them and may ease some nagging doubts about Romney’s own commitment to conservative principles.
Third, he’s losing.
Recent polls have shown a widening of the gap between Romney and the president. The Obama campaign’s nasty negative ads about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, his failure to file many tax returns and his own use of tax shelters and tax havens like the Cayman Islands have succeeded brilliantly, although they’ve driven the campaign into the gutter. Clearly Team Obama has defined Romney in a negative way, to the point where he was close to crying “uncle” in a Friday interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd.
Romney needed something to “change the conversation,” as David Chalian of Yahoo News put it, and Ryan certainly will help him do that. At best, it may help elevate the campaign and put tough issues like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security on the table.
But remember: the Romney/Ryan economic and budget plans will cut personal income tax rates by 20% in addition to the Bush tax cuts, which have been a fiscal albatross for this country. They will cut domestic spending even more than the $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts we’ll see over the next decade, which will reduce domestic discretionary expenditures by 20%. They both want to boost defense spending dramatically over the same period.
And though Ryan has laid out his plan to turn Medicare and Social Security into a voucher system for future retirees, neither he nor Romney has specified any tax hikes or elimination of tax deductions they would recommend to balance the budget and reduce debt. And Ryan, who served on the Simpson-Bowles commission, helped kill that commission’s findings by voting against them, preventing the final proposal from getting a floor vote in Congress.
The Obama campaign is probably happy with this choice—it has plenty of video clips it can use in future attack ads in states like Florida and Pennsylvania where it can scare the hell out of retirees about Ryan’s Medicare plan. That approach worked in a special election in New York in 2011, and you can expect to see Democratic TV ads with grannies going over the proverbial cliff. Paul Ryan is likely to be more polarizing than his conservative supporters expect, and he’ll have a Medicare target on his back.
But as The Wall Street Journal reported, this is largely going to be an election based on turning out the party’s faithful. Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan will help both presidential candidates do that. How it affects the rest of us remains to be seen over the next 90 days.