I did not see this one coming. Like many, I’ve been a fan of Ryan for a long time and would (like many) rather see Ryan in the White House than Romney. But I have serious doubts this choice will help Romney dislodge the current occupant.
I’m still trying to get my head around this choice. Romney is a calculating guy, and it is hard to see how Ryan improves the electoral math. What was Romney’s motivation? All the Democratic loyalists seem to be doing cartwheels, and I find it hard to believe their joyful reaction is just a mask covering their fear. Because Ryan is a person of substance, he gives the left a truckload of material they can use to distort and scare moderate voters. It is a risky strategy to pick a running mate who will energize the base of one’s opponent.
I’m worried that this pick is mostly about Romney’s insecurities. He’s the flip-flopping rich guy with the weird religion that his own party’s faithful barely tolerate and who gets frequently caricatured as a wimp who no one likes. I think he has a deep desire to be liked and accepted, and this pick certainly gets him some love from conservatives. I think, though, that Romney will find this strategy won’t work. Conservatives are pleased with the pick and it will motivate additional enthusiasm about the campaign. But the ultimate effect is likely that people will think even more strongly that Romney is a do-anything opportunist who is just trying to please others.
A more optimistic view is that Romney wants to paint a clear contrast with Obama. Ryan brings ideas and substance to campaign. He is one of the few politicians who is able to articulate how severe the long-term fiscal picture of the nation is, and he has had the courage to put forward plans to address real problems. Democrats hate his budget plan not only because it shrinks government but because it puts in stark contrast that the left has no workable plan whatsoever for entitlement reform.
Perhaps Romney has more faith in ideas than many give him credit for (though it is hard to infer this from the campaign thus far). Romney had to have known that this choice would move the campaign in a fundamentally different direction. Perhaps his choice reflects a faith that the American people can actually be persuaded by an ideological debate, rather than by the normal fluff and pettiness of retail politics.
If this is the case, then Romney would have to be the most idealistic presidential candidate since, at least, Reagan–but one who brings a lot more brain cells to the debate than Reagan could have ever fired up. Perhaps he is moving he campaign in this substantive direction because he believes it is the debate we should be having, win or lose.
I am still too cynical to buy into that theory fully and even more skeptical that it will buy him more than just a moral victory in November. But at least we can say that, at long last, the campaign just got interesting.