Romney, Out of Character, Picks Ryan
Earlier today Mitt Romney officially announced that Paul Ryan, a Congressman from Wisconsin, and a man most famous for his radical 2010 budget, will be his Vice-Presidential nominee. Here are some hard and fast thoughts, ordered vaguely and submitted without eloquence or style (for which I apologise).
Firstly, Romney’s selection is unusually bold. Conventional wisdom held that, after the disaster of Sarah Palin in 2008, Romney, the cautious businessman, would pick a boring, white guy. Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman were two of the favourite amongst many of the talking-heads by virtue of their staggering dullness. Ryan may be white, but he is not boring.
Instead, Romney seems to have acknowledged that his strategy of making this election a referendum on President Obama may not be enough. This is a statement of intent on Romney’s part, and an attempt to shake-up a campaign that has been slowly but surely drifting towards the incumbent.
Ryan does not suffer from the same vacant mind that shines from Sarah Palin’s every word. A policy-wonk before he is a politician, his intellect is formidable and impressive – even the President says so – and whilst many disagree with the vision he sets out for the country, he is nonetheless admired across the political spectrum for the sharpness of his mind.
His ideas on how to bring the United States back to fiscal health are radical and politically brave. The Left see Ryan as a man intent on shredding the safety net that catches the weakest in society; the Right adores him for his belligerent advocacy of fiscal conservatism. Romney had previously tentatively endorsed Ryan’s 2010 Budget but he is now inextricably bound to it. What this means will be determined in how the narrative is shaped over the next few weeks.
Team Obama – who have gained a reputation for the ferocity and speed of their response – will likely relish the chance to take on Ryan. For all his considerable intelligence he is also a relatively unknown entity outside of the political bubble. Even in Wisconsin he does not have the state-wide name-recognition that a Senator or Governor does. As they have done to Romney, the Obama campaign will seek to define him on their own terms. The man who ‘wants to end Medicare as we know it’ will be one likely line of attack, and a particularly potent one in pensioner-heavy states like Florida, which is crucial to a Romney victory.
Ryan does have his upsides, obviously. He is young, dynamic and (for a politician) good-looking. More importantly is his ability to explain complicated ideas in simple terms, an invaluable skill for any modern politician. Romney has had a problem connecting with blue-collar voters, Ryan connects easily.
Ryan’s blueprint for fiscal health also brings into focus America’s ballooning national debt. Whilst much of the blame for fiscal recklessness should probably lie at the feet of George W. Bush (an assertion Ryan would not dispute) Obama will be an easy-target just by being in office at a time when the national debt has continued to expand. The stimulus – arguably one of the reasons why America, unlike much of the Western world, currently has an economy which is growing – will be attacked fiercely.
Unlike Romney however, Ryan has barely any private sector experience. Flipping burgers in McDonalds notwithstanding, he has spent almost his entire career inside Washington, a message at odds with Romney’s private sector fetish. Moreover, Ryan has yet to properly endure the glare of the national spotlight. His vetting by the Romney camp will have no doubt been thorough, particularly after what unfolded four years ago, but the media has fresh meat to get its teeth into, so expect a vicious trial by press.
Finally, the justification behind Romney’s choice has generally pointed towards the hope that a ‘reset’ button can be hit on an election that was slipping away from the Republican. Interestingly, this was a similar rationale behind the selection of Sarah Palin four years ago. She was picked for being a ‘game-changer’ – we all saw how that panned out.
Ryan is very different from Palin in many ways, but the outcome could be similar. Defined in the right way by the Obama campaign and Romney’s decision could quickly look foolish. Vice-Presidential nominees tend not to provide big gains, but they have the potential to be very damaging.
Either way, this election suddenly got a lot more interesting, but it remains to be seen just what sort of impact Paul Ryan will have.