The Paul Ryan pick and what it tells us about Romney

It was a risk -- but a calculated one

(Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages)

Rarely have I seen the choice of a vice presidential candidate rally the base of both political parties as much as Paul Ryan’s has. The Republican base, including social conservatives and Tea Partiers, is clearly ecstatic. The Wall Street Journal, with Rupert Murdoch leading the chorus, got the choice it wanted. Movement conservatives like Bill Kristol and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who were never warm to Mitt Romney, will become more vocal in their support of the GOP ticket, and possibly more strident.

Democrats, however, also could hardly contain their glee. Ryan’s nomination, they believe, means shifting the focus of the race from a dangerous referendum on Obama’s policies to one on the direction of the country, including the future of Medicare. This is welcome news. The Romney-Ryan ticket seems to espouse policies similar to those of the Bush administration, and Ryan’s budget proposal goes even further. This means Obama and Biden can go on the attack by pointing to the state of the American economy at the end of the Bush era and questioning why the job losses were averaging around 750,000 a month when they took office. Plus, Democrats believe Ryan’s views on Medicare and Medicaid won’t play well in swing states like Florida and Ohio.

Besides, the Romney-Ryan duo seems weak in an area that is normally a GOP vantage point in presidential contests – national security. They are the least experienced GOP ticket in foreign policy and national security America has seen since the end of World War II. Foreign policy, on the other hand, is where Obama gets his highest approval ratings.

There’s also the cynical view that the conservative movement’s push for Ryan over Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty may actually be a ploy to sabotage a GOP presidential candidate for which many Republicans feel no love. The VP pick may be more about 2016 than 2012, goes the conspiracy theory: Romney loses and Ryan positions himself as the odds-on favorite to win the next GOP nomination.

Partisan hype aside, though, Mitt Romeny had its reasons for picking Ryan. Amiable and highly respected, he has a defined vision of government and a clear agenda for the future — something Romney the flip-flopper is perceived as lacking. Ryan will force a shift in the public debate away from personality quarrels and toward policy issues and the future of the country. Though venom is sure to remain a trait of this race, American voters will have the chance to choose between competing visions of the future, not just an assessment of the current mood. This election will therefore become about more than just the economy, even though the economy will of course remain a decisive factor in many voters’ minds.

Common wisdom holds that the VP pick rarely affects the November election results. People vote for the top of the ticket. In this case, though, the #2 guy says a lot about the presidential nominee. Here, Romney has shown himself to be methodical and far more serious and calculating in his selection than John McCain was in 2008. The disastrous choice of Sarah Palin by the Arizona senator was allegedly improvised, something Romney had to avoid at all costs. In this regard, he has passed the test, and Obama and Biden are now facing a much stronger ticket than the one they beat in 2008.

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