Fire up the mighty forge of the 24-hour news cycle! It’s time for that crucible to shape the conventional wisdom of Mitt Romney asking Paul Ryan to join him on the 2012 Republican ticket.
Ryan is a bold choice! He’s a concession to the conservatives! He’s a talented politician!
I am not equipped to plug into the zeitgeist of political coverage because I’m not in the war rooms of these networks and newspapers and unable to let every nugget of wisdom subtly shift my perception. But I have a few thoughts specifically on the way Paul Ryan shifts the messaging and rhetorical shape of the election.
1) An Early Saturday Announcement During the Olympics Was Crucial For Mitt Romney: A popular question going around the Twitter-sphere in the moments after this news broke was, “why announce on the last Saturday of the Olympics?” Barack Obama made his announcement of Joe Biden on the last Saturday of the Olympics, but that was the weekend before the Democratic National Convention and in late August when the American viewing public had already switched over to political mode. This, on the other hand, is the second earliest VP announcement from a major party other than 2004, long before Americans have moved past the Olympics, the PGA Championships, or their own summer vacations.
But that’s the whole point! Mitt Romney and his campaign are banking on Americans overlooking the first weekend of this announcement. It seems counter-intuitive, but remember the original conventional wisdom surrounding this pick. Romney was supposed to pick either Senator Rob Portman or Governor Tim Pawlenty to provide Americans with a competent second banana without adding someone to the ticket who overshadowed Mitt Romney. Given Romney’s seemingly dull personality, the GOP campaign faced a difficult challenge finding someone who could not steal the show. Paul Ryan on the other hand is a relatively charismatic figure. Add the fact that Romney has sought to downplay economic specifics while Ryan is the most lucid proponent of the most specific conservative economic principles (the eponymous “Ryan Budget” or “Path to Poverty” and efforts to privatize Social Security).
The Romney campaign is banking on a weekend of trial runs, showing the candidates in different states giving different speeches with only the media elite watching. By the end of this weekend, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan hope to find the proper give-and-take before America starts watching.
You know what it also does? Release the new GOP ticket on a weekend when MSNBC is effectively off-the-air showing nothing but basketball and pentathlon.
2) Romney Probably Just Sacrificed Florida For an Outside Chance at Wisconsin: Do the Republicans think they can make inroads into Wisconsin? I grant that the Wisconsin Recall did not go the way of the Democrats, but polling that suggested that many voters were opposed to replacing the sitting governor than reelecting that sitting governor should give them pause (last paragraph). Paul Ryan has never been elected to anything but a Wisconsin district that includes no cities whatsoever. The odds that a ticket can turn the tide in a state by adding a running mate who has never held statewide office in the state are slim. Given that Paul Ryan is synonymous with slashing Medicare, Romney’s tenuous lead in Florida — the state most tied to Medicare and Social Security — may have just slipped out of his grasp. That’s not smart math.
3) Joe Biden Just Got a Gift: No, Paul Ryan is not Sarah Palin. In fact, he’s a very smart politician and seems to be a competent debater (though we’ve never seen him compete on the national stage). But he gives Joe Biden — a proven commodity in the (vice-)presidential debate format — the opposite of the gift of Sarah Palin. The political debate format is, unfortunately, as concerned with expectation as it is with content. Sarah Palin offered no content, but Paul Ryan offers huge expectations. Already, the media are chattering about the uphill battle facing Joe Biden in debate prep. The more people begin to believe that Ryan is going to best Joe Biden, the easier Biden has it. As a polished, political veteran in the incumbent’s chair, Biden is unlikely to perform worse than a draw and even a draw will confound the elites declaring Paul Ryan a brilliant debater.
4) Romney Risks Becoming A Stuffed Shirt…More So: Mitt Romney has suffered from the image that he’s devoid of core political principles. He’s a wimp who moves with the political winds and represents nothing. While Romney had seemingly tried to turn this to an advantage by running the campaign as a referendum on President Obama to avoid the Obama campaign’s efforts to tie Romney to the GOP House of Representatives. Now Romney is shifting course and wrapping himself in the attack Obama is leveling. Trying to pivot into the attack of the Obama campaign and turn it into a strength with a smart, crystalized defense of the Ryan Budget from the mouth of its author.
Many people are explaining how this is politically ludicrous given the popularity of the House of Representatives and the shellacking the GOP took when it first tried to pass the Ryan Budget. But the biggest risk for Romney is not latching himself to the House GOP — Obama was succeeding in doing that anyway — but setting up a more damaging attack from the Obama campaign. People don’t vote for Vice-Presidents, they vote for Presidents. Mitt Romney wasn’t going to lose because he couldn’t explain the Ryan Budget well enough — between experience and surrogates people would understand that debate either way. Romney has fixed the wrong weakness because he’s furthered his image as a stuffed shirt who needed to bring in a conservative ideologue to tell him what to say. Expect to see a lot more of Grover Norquist calling for a robot in the White House with “just enough digits to sign [the Ryan Budget].”
5) The End Of Mavericky: John McCain and Sarah Palin pitched themselves as “mavericks” who worked outside the Beltway. Even though McCain had spent decades in Washington, he used his unconventional style to cast himself as an outsider. This dates back to Ronald Reagan’s successful 1980 campaign as an outsider and George H.W. Bush’s successful campaign donning cowboy boots and pretending he hadn’t been a Northeastern GOP elite his whole life.
But now, the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket already called the “Establishment GOP” ticket, the establishment has added an ideologue who has not worked outside of Washington since he was a waiter at Tortilla Coast. Unless the Romney campaign is preternaturally stupid, they will have to avoid pretending that they are the Outside the Beltway option because that’s a fat pitch in the strikezone for the Obama campaign.