Monday, August 13, 2012

The Paul Ryan Pick

In today's Political Corner, the big buzz is the only bit of substantive news in the 2012 presidential campaign since Rick Perry imploded and therefore left only Mitt Romney to get the GOP nomination.  This news, of course, is the announcement of Romney's pick for Vice President, a young congressman from Wisconsin with two first names--Paul Ryan. 

Ryan is best known in Washington circles for the notorious Ryan Plan for tackling the federal budget deficit with significant cuts and restructurings in spending programs and entitlements.  If you're on the Right, you probably love the guy--unlike a lot of generic calls for "spending cuts", Ryan has proposed actual specific and politically risky medicine for our unsustainable deficits.  If you're on the Left, you probably can't stand him--the Ryan Plan calls for some very deep cuts with no tax increases. 

Personally, I have no qualms with the pick of Paul Ryan--the only thing that should really matter in selecting a VP is whether that person is capable of serving as president if necessary.  In U.S. history, we've had 43 presidents so far and nine times the VP has had to take the top spot due to the death or resignation of the president--a better than 20% chance.  From what I know about Ryan--which admittedly isn't much at this stage, though more will be known as the campaign goes on--he doesn't appear to be stupid or crazy or corrupt. 

However, in terms of political strategy, I'm not seeing how this helps Romney against Obama.  Consider each plausible reason why Romney would make this pick from a political strategy standpoint:

1) This fires up the GOP base by picking a man respected and admired by conservatives and Tea Partiers.  However, those groups are as fired up as they can be, as defeating Obama is more important to them than anything this fall.  Nominating an inanimate carbon rod would make them no less likely to mobilize to the polls in November.

2) Ryan is a popular congressman from a swing district in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is a swing state.  However, a VP nomination has not helped a ticket carry the swing state in a long time--just ask President Kerry how John Edwards helped him in North Carolina.  The last time a VP made a difference in carrying their state for their ticket was LBJ in 1960, though at that time Texas was in the grip of Landslide Lyndon's corrupt machine. 

3) Picking Ryan helps Romney stake out a stark ideological contrast between Ryan's version of deficit reduction (deep spending cuts and keeping taxes low) and Obama's version (raising taxes in the rich with much smaller spending cuts).  However, does this contrast need to be made?  If Romney didn't already tell everyone that he's backing Ryan's plan, Obama's campaign has been doing that for them. 

The areas where Romney's weakest--where the GOP in general has been weakest--is among Hispanics, women and young professionals.  Moving the needle a few ticks with any of these groups would give him an edge against Obama, and picking a VP who can appeal directly to these groups would signal a strategic move in that direction.  But picking Paul Ryan indicates that for Romney's campaign this will be an election about mobilizing the base and putting up a stark constrast between the two choices voters will have this fall.

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