Not the Game Change
What does the choice of Paul Ryan as Vice Presidential candidate mean for the campaign of Willard “Mitt” Romney?
A vice presidential running mate is often chosen for a number of reasons — to balance the ticket geographically or ideologically, to satisfy the demands of some branch of the president’s party, to attract a particular group of voters, to fill some perceived weakness in the Presidential candidate. Does Ryan bring any of this to the ticket?
Back in May, many commentators were noting Romney’s need and desire to avoid making the sorts of mistakes Senator John McCain made in his disastrous 2008 campaign. Among them was his choice of then Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a running mate. At first glance, the choice of Ryan seems to have met the requirement to be unPalin. But how well does Ryan satisfy this?
In as far as the traditional reasons for choosing a Vice President — ticket balance, party demands, attracting voters, perceived weakness — Ryan is not the usual sort of choice. As regards what is perhaps the most vital need this time around — to not be Romney’s Palin — he fails miserably.
For regional or ideological balance, Ryan doesn’t seem to actually change much. Romney had roots in the Midwest, his father having been Governor of Michigan. Ryan holds a House seat from Wisconsin. True, the younger Romney has recently been associated more with the Northeast, enough so that Newt Gingrich called him a “Massachusetts moderate” (and he didn’t mean that as a compliment). And Romney would benefit greatly from Wisconsin’s electoral votes. He probably can’t win the election without them.
Had Romney not taken such a strong anti-Midwestern stance (as when he famously said four years ago we should “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”), he could have played on his father’s Midwestern roots as former Michigan Governor and former Chief Executive Officer of American Motors. But having slammed that door, he may need someone like Ryan to connect his candidacy to the heart of the country. This may be “geographic balance,” but it is a balance Romney shouldn’t have needed.
Ideologically, Ryan seems to fit a need to establish far-right credentials for Romney. The loud and energetic tea-drinking wing of the Party demanded they be given some sort of bone after a series of their darlings (Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater, MN), Texas Governor Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Donald Trump, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) folded under the weight of actually being seen and heard in public. One can’t say this is “ideological balance” — one cannot “balance” the right with the radical extreme right — but it is an attempt to bow to the demands of what has become an important part of Romney’s party.
Polls seem to indicate that the enthusiastic clique of Republican voters consists primarily of Tea Partiers, who are not particularly enthusiastic about Romney. They do, however, appear to love Paul Ryan, placing him into that series of beloved darlings. It would seem, then, that Ryan can help both to address some of the intra-party squabbles within the Republican establishment, and to draw some voters who are enthusiastic, but not for Romney. In both cases, however, the choice of Ryan is an admission of failure on Romney’s part. Having won the Republican primaries, he should be able at least to excite and unite his own Party. He can’t.
Note here the contrast with Barack Obama in 2008. He went through a bruising primary struggle with Hillary Clinton, but it was bruising because both candidates generated genuine passion, not because the party’s voters were desperate to find someone — anyone — other than the party’s eventual nominee. (Remember all the discussion about the newest not-Romney? Democrats in 2008 never longed for a not-Obama.) And Obama’s solution to the battle was to genuinely address and satisfy the concerns of Clinton supporters, not to find someone else who could do it for him. Ryan will be a constant living, breathing reminder that Romney, as head of the Republican Party, cannot actually lead it on his own.
One thing Ryan doesn’t do is expand the Republican base. He doesn’t draw moderate voters into the tent. His attraction is to the rightist fringe. Recall all the talk during the primaries, that Romney had to swing right to win the nomination, and would have to find a way to tack toward the center in the general campaign. Apparently, Romney has abandoned this course, admitting he was unable to pull in even the Republican wing of the Republican party. He still has to worry about drawing in his supposed base. The choice of Ryan is a signal that there will be no outreach to moderates or independents, because Romney has still failed to draw even the conservatives to whom he so desperately pandered in the primaries. Ryan is an admission of failure.
Regarding Romney’s weaknesses as a presidential candidate and as a potential president, what are the things Romney lacks? He has no foreign policy knowledge or experience. He has no particular experience in the law or the Constitution. He has no military experience, having avoided the Vietnam draft while encouraging others to go. He seems to know little or nothing about science or scientific policy. He did have some executive experience, having served one term as Governor of Massachusetts, but he doesn’t want anyone to look at that record (“I didn’t inhale”), so he might as well never have had it.
The only aspect of any of this that Ryan could conceivably fill has to do with the law, having been a lawmaker since 1999, and having been a Congressional staffer for a few years before that. But this is not something Republicans like these days, with their hatred for government and contempt for Washington. The weakness of Romney’s that Ryan can fill is something that neither Romney nor Ryan will want to stress — that Ryan has been a Washington insider for two decades.
In other words, Ryan doesn’t effectively fill any of Romney’s many weaknesses. In any other year, Romney’s lack of knowledge and experience in government and military and foreign affairs and the law — in, that is, every area that the President is supposed to address — might be an issue. But this year, the campaign is about the economy, and Romney is running on his economic expertise. Keep in mind, Republicans traditionally claim that the President doesn’t have much say in economic matters — Congress, not Clinton, balanced the budget, and Congress, not Reagan, is responsible for the enormous deficits of the 1980s. The President cannot enact budgets or establish taxes or set interest rates. Yet Romney (while not wanting to talk about his time at Bain Capital) is running on his supposed economic acumen.
What does Ryan bring to this? Well, he brings the Ryan Budget and his plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system. Whether one approves of these proposals or not, they are still more reminders that Romney could not, on his own, make the case for himself as an economics wonk. Ryan does fill a perceived weakness here — but it is a weakness at the heart of Romney’s candidacy, a hole in what was supposed to be Romney’s entire reason for his candidacy.
This leaves Ryan as merely not-Palin. At first glance, he would seem to fit this anti-role well. He’s male, she’s female. She quickly developed a reputation for being something of an airhead, whereas Ryan is considered a bona fide policy wonk. Clearly, Ryan is not Palin. But there, the dissimilarity ends. Just as with Sarah Palin, he’s young, he’s attractive, his politics are from the extreme right, and, most importantly, he was brought on board to inject some excitement into a lackluster campaign.
Ryan, in other words, appears to be Romney’s attempt at a game-changer. Ryan is Romney’s admission that, until now, he has been losing, and if something drastic doesn’t happen, Romney will lose.
Ryan brings nothing of significant substance to the ticket, other than things that Romney should have had to begin with, or as a sop to an insurgency within the Party that doesn’t like its own nominee. Ryan is a Hail Mary pass, a trick play that the coach hauls out at the last minute in total desperation. The Romney campaign has become “A vote for Romney is a vote for Ryan” — but Americans do not go to the polls to elect a Vice President.
That was precisely Sarah Palin’s role in the McCain campaign. In other words, Ryan is Romney’s Palin. Ryan actually changes nothing. He simply brings Romney’s failures and inadequacy into sharper focus.
- Why Paul Ryan? (douthat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- FiveThirtyEight: A Risky Rationale Behind Romney’s Choice of Ryan (fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Rejoice! It’s Ryan! (cbsnews.com)
- Richard Viguerie: Paul Ryan is a Good Man, But Not a Game Changer (faithinspires.wordpress.com)
- Paul Ryan’s Jack Abramoff And Tom DeLay Connections Likely To Draw New Scrutiny (huffingtonpost.com)
- Paul Ryan Is No Sarah Palin, Says Romney Camp (buzzfeed.com)
- Romney Chooses Randroid Paul Ryan as VP Candidate… (leiterreports.typepad.com)
- Steve Israel: Paul Ryan’s Selection May Have Become Democrats’ ‘Majority Maker’ In House (huffingtonpost.com)
- Romney running mate Paul Ryan excites local left and right (khou.com)
- Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand Fan, Brings Writer’s Philosophy To Presidential Stage (huffingtonpost.com)
About dcpetterson (187 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson