Mitt Romney chooses Paul Ryan as his VP. What are we to make of this choice? Quite simply, this is one of the best things that can happen for Obama and it also demonstrates a recurrent crisis and problem for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.
First, for my Minnesota readers, no surprise that the choice was not Tim Pawlenty. Four years ago I was persistent in arguing that he would not be the VP pick since he added nothing to the ticket. The same was true this time around too. Pawlenty would not have been the favorite son candidate to deliver Minnesota and, quite frankly, he would not have delivered any other state. He was never the candidate of choice among conservatives and thus would not have helped with that base of the party. Nor does he resonate with voters around the country (as evidenced by his short-lived presidential campaign) and he is not a great pit bull or fund raiser. Nor does he have Washington experience. Nor is there any evidence that his blue collar roots would have offset Romney’s Richie Rich image. Pawlenty was just another boring white guy-a former governor. He was too much like Romney. The only thing he had going for him was that Romney liked him and he would have done no harm.
But why Paul? Several reasons. First, Paul is the person exciting conservatives who still do not trust Romney’s conservative credentials. With Paul one gets someone with grand conservative ideas–sort of a Jack Kemp lite or a Sarah Palin strong–and lots of support from an important wing of the base. Additionally, Paul is from Wisconsin, a critical swing state, and maybe that was a factor. Perhaps so too was the Washington experience of Ryan. And perhaps too Ryan and Romney get along. Thus, there several plausible reasons for Paul.
Yet for all these reasons, Paul looks like another Sarah Palin mistake that should make Obama grin. No, Paul is not the lightweight inexperienced person that Palin was. He is Palin in a different way. Palin was thrust on to McCain after his first choice of Lieberman was vetoed by the conservatives who wanted the suspect moderate McCain to prove credentials by picking the governor from Alaska. Here it seems the same thing is occurring. Romney is being led around by his nose by the conservatives telling him what he needs to do to get their support. Selecting Ryan drives Romney and the GOP further to the right at a time when both need to be moving to the center to capture the swing voter. Maybe Ryan helps with the base but the election is now down to the votes of ten percent of the electorate in ten swing states. The swing voters will determine the election and it is not clear that selecting a conservative and moving to the right is the way to score this base.
Ryan is not the Hail Mary pick that Palin was. She was selected to excite the base and win women voters. But she too did little for swing voters who were concerned about her lack of experience and McCain’s age. Ryan will be a cement shoes on Romney. Obama and the Democrats will trot out Ryan’s budget plans to cut entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare and tie that to Romney. Romney will have a Richie Rich image to go along with his desire to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and cut entitlement programs for the middle class. The entire Obama campaign places Romney on the defensive about whose side he is one and it will prevent Romney from discussing the economy. Romney has lost swing voter with this choice.
So think about it. Ryan drives Romney to the right and does little to help with swing voters in swing states. This is a sign of a crisis and desperation in the Romney campaign. At a critical point when Romney should be demonstrating leadership and control over his base, he shows he is still captured by it and trying to shore it up. If Romney loses this November--and the odds go up now with the Ryan pick--it will be two elections in a row sabotaged by the right. The lesson though they will learn from it is to get a real rightist as presidential candidate next time.
PS: Go to the Tampa Tribune this Sunday to read comments of mine about the myth of convention bumps. Here I discuss the myth that states hosting national political conventions get a political bump for it in terms of helping to win the state.