I think the last ticket with as little experience in those areas was probably Wilson/Marshall in 1912, although a case can be made for Dewey/Warrren in 1948.
As amusing as a 1912 comparison would be in a few ways, I am inclined to favor the Dewey-Warren comparison. Does this lack of experience matter? Well, yes and no. In purely electoral terms, foreign policy remains as irrelevant for most voters as ever, and so does the candidates’ lack of experience. If we are assessing whether or not Romney and Ryan are qualified for the positions they seek, it does matter. It would be somewhat different if they were not both on the record repeatedly denouncing Obama’s foreign policy as a disaster. It wouldn’t make them more qualified, but at least they wouldn’t be claiming that they are better stewards of national security while having no credibility on the relevant issues. As I’ve said before, one of the greatest problems with Romney is that his foreign policy vision is far more ambitious than his experience and knowledge justify:
The gap between the ambitious and aggressive nature of Romney’s proposed foreign policy and the preparation and knowledge needed to conduct such a foreign policy is huge.
This gap is not closed in the slightest by the addition of Ryan, and as I tried to show in my column the foreign policy ambition and aggressiveness of the Republican ticket have also not been moderated in the least. It doesn’t exactly come as shocking news that Ryan is being prepped by neoconservative advisers, since he structured an entire foreign policy address around a Charles Krauthammer argument. The Ryan selection has compounded Romney’s weakness on foreign policy, and in almost any other election cycle this would be a significant, if not fatal, political liability for the ticket. If they weren’t on the Republican ticket and if they weren’t advocates for bad hawkish policies, we would be hearing screams of terror from national security hawks that these candidates are not fit for office. That wouldn’t necessarily make it true, but it’s impressive to watch the contortions that some of these same hawks are now putting themselves through to maintain the fiction that Ryan isn’t inexperienced.
When candidates lack much experience, they tend to appeal to the importance of judgment. That is what Obama did to counter Hillary Clinton and John McCain. McCain is a living symbol of the truth that experience does not guarantee wisdom. Obama used his opposition to the Iraq war to distinguish himself from his opponents, and he used it to argue that his judgment on foreign policy was better than theirs. Whatever the reasons for his opposition, he ended up being on the right side of the argument and his more experienced rivals ended up on the wrong side.
This is where Romney and Ryan really get into trouble. Their experience is non-existent or very limited, but when we look at their arguments and their judgment it is even worse for them. The most significant foreign policy vote Paul Ryan has ever cast was his support for the authorization of the Iraq war. Mitt Romney was not in a position for vote for the authorization, but he reliably backed the Iraq war nonetheless. The point here is that they both fell in line behind a disastrous policy, and continued to support it for years afterward. On the most significant foreign policy debate of the last ten years, they were both on the wrong side and remained on the wrong side until the end. Why should voters trust these two to have good judgment in the future?