The pick is finally out there. Governor Mitt Romney surprised more than a few people by going with Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for his Vice-Presidential nominee. Ryan, a budget-obsessed Catholic who is a Tea Party favourite, now represents the first ‘Presidential level’ decision of Mitt Romney. Looking back at 2008 and the pick of Sarah Palin that was so transformative, the only possible reaction to the selection of Ryan is a shrug. Boring, unimaginative and unable to deliver a win. The articles that continue to speculate about what might take place in a Romney administration should stop now, the good Governor just threw in the towel.
Some have looked at the decision to tap Paul Ryan and pointed to his Path to Prosperity budget, his high approval rating within his district and strong moral opposition to abortion as music to the ears of the Republican base that was far from falling in love with Governor Romney. The argument now goes that with a budget hawk on the ticket, Tea Party goers will now flock to the polls and deliver a resounding win for the Republican nominee. Meanwhile, the fiscal responsibility of Ryan will apparently attract independents, further solidifying the Romney-win and making the campaign competitive in Wisconsin and other Democrat-leaning states.
The problem with that analysis is that it is fundamentally flawed. The three reasons why it is so flawed are fairly simple and betray the huge lack of vision in the Romney camp:
1. Paul Ryan is a nobody. A lot of people have already argued very effectively that the VP pick is not nearly as important as the media likes to make out. People vote the top of the ticket. That analysis is often true, but can be reversed if the choice for VP is interesting enough, from a swing state or a well known figure. Congressman Ryan is an intensely boring person from a safe Democratic state and while famous within the Beltway is largely unknown across the country. Add in the fact he is very difficult to listen to because of a lack of charisma or any kind of charm and you realise that Ryan is unlikely to have any kind of positive influence on the race.
2. Paul Ryan changes the conversation. This election has been about the economy and jobs. Ryan is the poster child of the budget-obsessed within the Republican Party. The deficit and the economy are linked, but not as much in the minds of independents as in the minds of Republican faithful. Ryan’s plan is to cut the deficit and reform the federal government which in turn will allow private sector growth. The key is what comes first. In the Paul Ryan worldview there is nothing as important as cutting the deficit. He is not so much a budget hawk as a budget fanatic. While in principle reducing the deficit sounds like good politics, Ryan’s focus on entitlement programs is too specific to survive in the American political climate. Americans like the idea of reducing the federal deficit in principle, only Republicans like the idea of the practice (entitlement ‘reform’). Thus Romney has managed to change the conversation from the economy where he is better trusted than the President to deliver, to the budget which accentuates the belief that he is a corporate, out-of-touch ‘nasty’ Republican.
3. Paul Ryan is a reflection of Romney. In a VP pick there is the possibility to show a degree of vision, and also of humility. Pick someone who appeals to a very different constituency, or who offers expertise in an area you yourself are relatively new to. Ryan offers a reaffirmation of deeply unimaginative Republican dogma. His Catholicism is only a little more appealing to many Evangelicals as Romney’s LDS membership. His mid-Western roots and irritating accent are very sweet, but ultimately similar to Romney. Romney saw a slightly less weird version of himself in Ryan, and decided to pick him on that basis. Ryan offers the same truisms on the economy and deficit, even more rigid views on social issues, no defense experience, no foreign policy understanding and no executive experience.
If Congressman Ryan had all the weaknesses described herein but could deliver his home state of Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes then maybe his selection would be worth something more. Unfortunately he will not deliver Wisconsin to Romney. All he does is reinforce the idea that Romney is too boring, too unoriginal and too cautious to be President.
When one thinks about the other choices Romney had available to him, the choice of Ryan becomes even more coma-inducing. Romney may still win in November, though it now seems more unlikely than ever. In the event he does, the Governor will win by default. The pick of Ryan shows that he is not really interested in making the decisive and bold choices needed to unite America behind a candidate and a President. He’s dull. He’s unimaginative. Dare it be said, he’s a coward?