Well, it’s finally happened – after all of the waiting, watching and guessing, Mitt Romney has finally selected a running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R – Wis.). Is this the stroke of brilliance that wins Romney the White House? Or a blunder that loses the election before the fall even sets in? Or does it even matter at all?
First, some background on Ryan himself. Paul Ryan has been the U.S. Representative from the 1st District of Wisconsin since 1999 – he is currently running for his 8th term in office. He’s a life-long politician, having worked as an aid and speechwriter before his election to Congress (he was 28 when elected). He currently holds the position of Chairman of the House Budget Committee, a highly visible position within the House and has been something of a rising star in conservative circles. It is this committee chair position that has lead to Ryan’s most recognizable moment – the release of his Republican counter to President Obama’s 2012 budget, entitled “The Path to Prosperity,” in which Ryan detailed how he would attempt to close the deficit and reform Medicare. Though it proved to be quite contentious (and was ultimately defeated in the Senate), this budget proposal earned great notoriety for Ryan and likely strongly contributed to his selection as Romney’s running mate.
But what does Ryan bring to the Romney campaign? What can he contribute either before or after the election? The office of the Vice President itself has little real power – in fact the Constitution enumerates only two: succeeding to the office of President on the death of the then-sitting President and presiding over the Senate. This presiding role is limited to procedural matters and the Vice President is not typically accorded speaking privileges – he is allowed to vote in the Senate only when there is a tie. In recent times, the Vice President has been according a voice in the cabinet by the President and serves in an advisory capacity – but this is strictly an informal practice. As these powers are quite limited, it is unlikely that Ryan would bring anything “unique” or special to them that another could not do just the same. Thus the selection must be all about the election itself.
There are a number of theories as to why a running mate might be selected: to win swing states, to “balance” the ticket in some manner, to appeal to a specific group of voters, and/or to grow/benefit from the growth of a rising party star. For example, Lyndon Johnson was selected in 1960 to increase the appeal of the New England-based John Kennedy in the South and win certain key states. Does Ryan fit any of these common strategies? Well, he plays well in the Midwestern states – but it’s unlikely that he will turn any of the key swing states. Even his home state of Wisconsin is still polling in favor of Obama, something that is unlikely to change.
Perhaps Ryan’s the kind of rising star that can help boost the ticket – or he can be a dynamic campaigner? Maybe, but his rise has been so polarizing (with his budget including a proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system), it’s unlikely that his particular star would be the boost that ticket in a real way. Mitt is already a decent enough speaker, and Ryan doesn’t seem to have the out and out charisma that would greatly benefit a campaign. Does he balance out the ticket? He’s a white male, approaching middle age with a background in economics and a life-long politician but without any real international experience – much like Mitt himself. He has more national political experience than Romney, but it’s hard to say he provides any real balance in the ticket.
So maybe he appeals to a specific set of voters? Now this is where we see the value of Ryan – he has a strong history of promoting key values that speak to the core GOP values – he espouses things like a strong traditional family unit, strong religious beliefs and is seen as being high on removing regulations and restrictions from private business. These voting patterns and personal stances will help Romney with core conservatives – an area he was seen as being weak in during the primary season against Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Ryan can help energize the GOP base and deliver key conservative votes and dollars to the campaign.
But the positives are only half the story. What about the negatives? A Vice Presidential candidate can both add AND subtract from a ticket. For an example of this, we need only look back four years and see Sarah Palin. Ms. Palin looked like very positive addition to the GOP ticket at first, a popular, young, vibrant woman to pair with an older, much more experienced man. But as she was dissected and put through the campaign wringer, it was discovered that she was lacking in several areas of knowledge and experience. Add in a series of blunders and she ultimately hurt the McCain campaign more than she helped it.
Ryan certainly has his negatives – he is seen as being so conservative that he is rated by many groups as voting anti-senior, anti-civil rights, anti-gay rights and pro religion. This will alienate key segments of the population that Romney would love to have in his court. Further, the fact that Ryan can’t deliver any swing states or key demographics (as opposed to other potential picks – the popular GOP Senators from Ohio or Florida for example) is a major weakness. Large blocks of his voting record indicate that he was looking for the best deal for his district or following the party line (key votes such as TARP, the GM bailout and 1999 repeal of certain key banking regulations).
In the grand scheme of things then, this VP pick is going to have a major impact on the vote of this blogger (and likely much of the American public). Four years ago the pick of Sarah Palin for Vice President sealed many votes for Obama – given the age and overall health of McCain, it was important to select a Vice President that the public could see taking over and leaving the country in good hands. Ms. Palin was not that pick.
So was Ryan a good selection or a blunder? Given his limited appeal in swing states, the alienation of large groups of Americans created by his voting record and availability of other – seemingly better – alternatives, we have to at this point chalk it up as a blunder. It was unlikely that the core conservatives would have voted for a Democratic candidate at any rate and that one positive seems to be far outweighed by the negatives.
What do you think? Blunder or brilliance?