The Saturday morning introduction of Rep. Paul Ryan as the running mate of Mitt Romney is indicative of so much. Among the most obvious is the public confession that Team Mitt is running a little scared. It also is a concession that this campaign has realized it will never have far-reaching minority appeal.
However, we all need to remember that this is the vice presidential running mate we are talking about. All that “selection day” offers is a respite for the Romney campaign, a respite from having to focus on the candidate himself. Yes, the fans have come out, the polls may go up, especially in Virginia where the announcement was made, and there will be a brief infusion of energy as well as a bit of curiosity. Those things always happen. But then they go away, and who are they left with? Mitt Romney, a most flawed and uninspiring candidate for president. The point is, it doesn’t really matter that he chose Paul Ryan.
It is always interesting to look at what was behind the selection. I was truly surprised that he chose Ryan, although not in a Bush-choosing-Quayle way — Ryan’s name has been in the hat since before there was even a nominee. As a matter of fact, I lost $20 to Cenk Uygur, who took Ryan with his very first pick in our Fantasy Veepstakes game (I took Rob Portman, and I refuse to play that game again for at least four years). I was surprised because Romney had already implicitly chosen to run with Ryan. He was inextricably attached at the hip to the designer of the budget that he has so often flouted. I am surprised too because, to be frank, I don’t see Romney as a man of great policy depth. Now he will have to familiarize himself with the minutiae of his running mate’s budget, which is both complex and occasionally contrary to what Romney has supported at various times himself. It paints him into a corner if this budget is now, by association, a cornerstone of his campaign.
While I don’t believe that even in Florida Ryan’s disdain for Medicare alone will cause Obama to win that state, it certainly invites scrutiny, and that is something Romney bristles at (See: TAXES). When he could have taken the chance that naming Sen. Marco Rubio might have insured a victory (which I strongly doubt), he went in the opposite direction in Florida, a state that he needs and a state that he owes a great deal to in having secured the nomination.
No pick would have widened the playing field for Mitt – something he desperately needs. Even the Ryan pick does nothing to brighten Romney’s hopes in Wisconsin. Ryan has never won a statewide office in Wisconsin. What Romney instead has done is to choose someone who the conservative media, and some conservative elected officials, begged him to choose. That is the most telling, and probably the only savvy piece of politics that the Ryan addition shows. It is telling because Romney now realizes he needs to kowtow to all of those Santorum voters who almost sent him back to Massachusetts, or Utah, or Michigan, or Bermuda, or Switzerland, or wherever he goes back to. It is savvy for two reasons. If by the end of September Romney’s numbers were to be as they are now, then the conservatives would have fled, regretted, and looked forward. Those conservatives are less likely to abruptly flee with Paul Ryan aboard. Secondly, I’ve said for a while that Romney needed someone to vouch for him to the conservatives. He has that now in Paul Ryan. But Ryan himself is loaded with political liabilities, so he doesn’t have much else.
While the Republicans are dancing about this – as if any running mate has made a difference since LBJ in 1960 – the Democrats, as well they should, are trumpeting the fact that Ryan has architected a plan to end Medicare, voted against the Fair Pay Act for women, embraced the most severe slashing of entitlements and spending in a generation, etc. But guess what? None of that matters, either. It doesn’t matter because as delighted as they are with what they perceive as a terrible Republican choice – a divisive young zealot, with an aggressively insensitive plan to re-prioritize the national budget – he is still only running for vice president. America doesn’t vote for vice presidents.
No, what is fabulously fortunate for the Democrats in the wake of the Ryan selection, is that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is still the Republican nominee for president, and Paul Ryan can’t change that.
(Photo: Getty Images)