I think Mitt might be having a bit of an identity crisis. When introducing his vice presidential running-mate, Paul Ryan, Governor Romney triumphantly declared the congressman as Mr. Obama’s successor. Oops. In the biggest moment of his campaign, the biggest moment of his public life thus far, Romney forgot for just a second (or maybe it was just Freudian), exactly why he was running for president.
Paul Ryan is a man of conviction. He’s been in the House for 13 years, weathered three administrations, and never once backed down from his principles. He wanted to overhaul Medicare when it was politically toxic, and kept on chugging as the Tea Party moved the issue to the forefront. His budget is a culmination of his 41 years on this planet, and many terms in Congress. It is the pinnacle of conservative thought. A true vision for this country. No wonder Mitt thought this guy is the one who should be running for president.
As many pundits have noted, Romney’s campaign strategy was largely making the campaign about Obama. The president failed, and Romney was a businessman so he’d do better. The latter part of that sentence, however, was also the less important part of Romney’s strategy. As I’ve written about, Romney’s goal was “focus on the economy” narrowly, highlighting the president’s failures and then “running out the clock” until election day.
Now the Obama campaign, given the excuse to go negative since Romney did it first, blitzed the media with attack ads (both personal and policy oriented) to define Romney in a negative light. Both sides desperately tried to define the other. Neither really talked about the candidates.
So Romney, seeing the strategy isn’t working (last week’s polls show Obama up 7-9 points nationally), decides to change the race by choosing a strong conservative. He chooses a man with a reputation for civility, and grand policy plans. He chooses the high road, a presidential campaign that will now be about visions, and choices (hopefully no more serial killer Romney ads).
It’s commendable, and I look forward to the next two and a half months. But it’s not Mitt.
The Ryan pick shows Mitt Romney is small. At President Obama’s healthcare summit, Paul Ryan argued with the president, face to face, as cameras rolled, about the philosophy, the policy, (obviously the price), of the Affordable Care Act. The locally elected Congressman sparred with the leader of the free world because he had conviction. Seeing his name below Romney’s just doesn’t make sense.
To show Romney’s shallowness: He passed universal healthcare, but then embraced Ryan’s budget plan during election season that would radically alter Medicare.
Romney never wanted a campaign about ideas. He wanted a campaign about Obama’s failed presidency. But that didn’t work so he’s now going to talk grand vision. The problem is he doesn’t have one. But Ryan does, and so Romney can tether his vision to Ryan’s. But that’s not how campaigns are run. The candidate doesn’t build off of his subordinate; it’s the other way around. Doing so exposes Romney’s lack of vision and identity. He is a follower, a “conservative” (maybe he can use that to connect to the average Joe). And the worst thing a follower can do is pretend to lead. Ryan is in every way a better Republican.
I’ve heard pundits discuss this risk over the last few months, but Ryan, above anyone else, is by far the most damaging. Because he isn’t wacky. He’s very similar to Romney in a lot of ways. He’s intelligent, civil, and cares much more about the economy than social issues. He sometimes seems aloof, or disconnected because of his intellectualism. But he has a clear sense of what he believes in and what’s worth fighting for. You can see that in the way he talks. He very well may be the next “President of the United States”
This election just got an upgrade. Ryan will force Romney to talk about the budget, and therefore, it will force the president to talk about the budget. But Ryan won’t give Romney much of a bump with independents, because Romney won’t succeed in connecting his (Ryan’s) vision to voters. But President Obama can connect; he did it four years ago.
So I like the pick. Not only because I think Obama will win, but because it will force issues that have to be addressed, and never otherwise would have been. Paul Ryan will discuss Medicare, and Social Security, and even though I disagree with his plans, the President will have to respond. The American people are going to learn to stomach some of these toxic issues, and they’re going to start to care about them. And when President Obama swears his oath in January, he’ll have the capital to roll up his sleeves and do something about them. Mr. Ryan, you may just end up with the reform you’ve always wanted.