August 22, 2012
In the last national election, the 2010 races for Congress ended with huge Republican gains, fueled in part by engaged and energized GOP activists in countless Tea Party groups across the country. What has been a curiosity is that this year, the party has opted for a presidential candidate who was widely seen as an epitome of caution, a man not given to exuberance.
And now Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate, in a move that the nominee clearly hopes will tap into that 2010 enthusiasm this year.
In the choice of Ryan, quite so.
Ryan, 42, is a seven-term member of the U.S. House from Wisconsin, a former Capitol Hill intern who worked his way up from the mailroom. He’s not poor, but he’s certainly not in the financial league of Romney, a Wall Street financier and former governor of Massachusetts.
What Ryan is best known for, in his role as chairman of the House Budget Committee, is an extremely controversial budget framework, now twice adopted by House Republicans. The “Ryan budget” isn’t actually a budget, but a budget resolution, which argues broadly — lacking key specifics, as we noted at the time — for a smaller federal government than Americans have taken for granted in recent decades.
It is the conservatives’ dream, but a piñata for happy Democrats to swing at.
Just look at one politically sensitive issue: The Ryan budget would turn Medicare into an insurance-like plan, shifting costs over time more to seniors. For Ryan, it’s a way to use competition to reduce costs, but for major seniors’ groups it’s anathema.
By picking Ryan, Romney makes the statement that he’s willing to take on those kinds of tough debates, even though Romney made it clear that it is his own, vaguer, campaign platform on the budget that will be the GOP “plan.”
So far, so bold, but Ryan also represents a generational leap for the GOP, as well as bringing his policy wonk credentials. The nominee could have opted for more ethnic diversity on the ticket, with potential choices ranging from Condoleezza Rice, the former foreign policy official, to Gov. Bobby Jindal or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Or Romney could have looked for a figure of more national experience from a key state, such as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a respected figure on Capitol Hill — but not the lightning rod for ideological controversy that Ryan is.
Romney chose boldly, surely.
As Ryan is not well-known outside political circles — most Americans in a recent CNN poll said they knew nothing about him — the pick also almost guarantees that the Democrats will try to seize upon Ryan’s budget as a central theme in the campaign, to “define” Ryan and thus Romney.
There are good reasons to do so, as we have noted before: a Ryan-type plan would eviscerate many public services in order to save money in the budget. And it promotes the notion, contrary to mathematical reality, that giant budget deficits can be tamed by yet more tax cuts.
Even the sunnily optimistic Ryan said a balanced budget would be decades away under his plan.
If it has some big gaps, the Ryan budget resolution nevertheless was something we welcomed as tackling the chronic problem of our nation spending beyond its means.
It is that central fact that Romney, with Ryan, will now seek to emphasize.
One real political virtue of the Romney pick: Ryan has already been attacked over and over again for the budget resolution, and is a skilled and articulate defender of its philosophy. He’s held his own even in debates with another skilled speaker, President Barack Obama.
If the Ryan pick flies in the face of Romney’s reputation for caution, it seems to be a selection that the nominee has delighted in, joining in chants at rallies with his young running mate.
“What these moments show is that Romney genuinely likes Ryan, a quality that shouldn’t be underestimated on a ticket,” noted reporter Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
No, it shouldn’t, and the Ryan pick may be a stroke of genius if it energizes GOP voters like it has Mr. Button-down on the top of the ticket.