1. It’s really the best Romney could do. If it sounds like faint praise, well, it is, but the fault is neither Romney’s nor Ryan’s. It’s the GOP’s, because its current bench of viable national players is pretty thin at this point. I mean, I looked at the list of VP prospectives and, with the exception of the possible positive optics of Marco Rubio, didn’t see a whole lot of there there. Pawlenty? Portman? I’m just going to go over here and take a nap. Governors Christie, McDonnell and Jindal are probably happy to sit out 2012 and prep for 2016 instead (or 2020, if it actually rolls that way), and other than that, who really is there for the GOP?
Some folks hinted toward Condi Rice, who, to be honest, I think would probably be an excellent VP. But she’s got the stink of the Bush Administration still on her, and anyway, the fact that she’s not safely married off to a man would probably freak out a lot of the GOP base. Given the field of whackjobs and dimwits that contested against Romney in the primaries, he couldn’t reasonably expect to tap one of them and not scare away every independent voter in the land (the one exception to this, Jon Huntsman, is a fellow LDS Church member, and I’m pretty sure an all-LDS ticket would sorely test those across the political spectrum for whom all they know of the LDS Church is what they saw on Big Love and that Broadway musical). So no love there.
With Ryan, Romney does himself no damage with GOP voters, and indeed quite the opposite: Ryan is well-liked in the party in general and also in Washington (where as I understand it even people who don’t share his politics find him to be a pleasant fellow to work with and be around). He has no major personal skeletons in the closet, and has solid conservative credentials. As the House Budget Committee chairman, and the author of a number of proposed budget plans, he is what passes for a serious thinker in the Republican Party these days. Ryan can help deliver Wisconsin to Romney, which is 10 electoral votes he’s going to need, and I suspect the thinking is that he might be able to put other parts of the Midwest into play as well, including Ohio, which right now is leaning Obama. And it signals to GOP voters that Romney — former Governor of the gayest commonwealth in the Union, who socialized medicine while he was in office there — is solidly behind the current conservative blueprints for the future of America. After all, Ryan is the architect of those blueprints, and those blueprints really do offer a solid contrast against what Obama has to offer (Romney maintains he is going to put together his own budget plan rather than run on Ryan’s, and I wish him the best of luck convincing anyone of that).
So, yes, Ryan really is the best Romney could have done. Now a substantial number of GOP voters will be voting for him (or at least for the ticket), rather than simply against Obama.
2. Ryan is the fellow that Obama’s used as a rope-a-dope punching bag at least a couple of times now because of his economic plans, and if you’re under the impression Obama’s not going to do it again, bigger and better than ever before, just you wait. There’s also the question of whether Ryan does anything to bring in independent and undecided voters in any way. I don’t think he does directly because generally speaking VP candidates don’t really do that except possibly in their own state, and he’ll only do it indirectly if voters twig to his economic plans, which will now be pressed to the forefront. That’s going to be a matter of selling, and of selling a vision that someone else (read: Obama and all the SuperPACs on his site of the divide) will be spending the next three months punching at, hard.
It’s going to be a challenge, in part because I suspect there’s a growing belief that the rich aren’t in fact holy job creators, nor would it invoke the end times if they were taxed a bit more, and partly because at the end of the day Obama is like Clinton and Reagan before him: A charismatic leader blessed with a leaden opponent. Nor is Ryan much help in that department. He may be likable but he’s not exactly charismatic; he comes across as the overly earnest sort who really believes what he believes and is sad and hurt when you don’t believe it with him. I suspect Biden is going to eat him alive in their debate. And in any event, even if Ryan had the charisma of Brad Pitt, he’s still not the fellow in the big chair; that’s Romney. Romney’s biggest problem is still Romney.
On a personal level, while I believe that Ryan is the best Romney could do under the circumstances, I think this suggests something not very good about the circumstances. I don’t think Ryan rises to Newt Gingrich levels of “a dumb person’s idea of a smart person,” but I have to admit being flummoxed by the amount of regard the GOP and conservatives have for his economic blueprints. Ryan has publicly distanced himself from Ayn Rand, whom he reportedly admired, which I think speaks well of him (if you consider Ayn Rand a serious political thinker rather than a philosophical and economic dilettante with a flair for potboilery prose, you get put into the “hasn’t quite grown up” category in my brain). His economic thinking, however, still bears the smudgy marks of the pseudo-objectivist doctrine that modern conservatives have, with its belief in the inherent malignancy of government and the inerrancy of private enterprise. His economic plans strike me as naïve at best and disingenuously meretricious at worst. That they are now the guiding star for the GOP’s plans for the US makes me want to get the lot of them into a doctor’s office to see if they are, as a class, suffering from hypoxia. Ryan would be the first into the examination room. I don’t doubt his sincerity, but I do doubt his good sense.
That said, I don’t see Ryan’s brand of economic thinking going anywhere anytime soon. More to the point, there’s nothing about Paul Ryan being elevated to Vice Presidential candidate that is anything but good for Ryan. If Romney wins, then quite obviously Ryan is going to have a nearly clear path to put his economic vision into effect. If Romney loses, no one in the GOP is going to blame Ryan or his economic plans for it; everyone will blame Romney for being a weak candidate and his team for not selling Ryan’s economic plan to the nation the way it should be been sold. Ryan goes back to the House (he doesn’t have to give up his seat unless Romney wins) a tragic conservative hero and positions himself, and his economic plan, for 2016. There’s not a whole lot of downside to this for Ryan.
At least on paper. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out for him, and for us, in the real world.