As I was deep in western Maryland over the weekend, attending a baseball camp with my son, I wan’t able to offer my pair of pennies on the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s No. 2.
Lots of conservatives (and liberals, too, for different reasons) are said to be ecstatic at the news.
I’m happy, in my own way, about it, too.
Back in April, in fact, I wrote what I thought was a wildly impractical post on why I was hoping for a Romney-Ryan ticket:
If Obama wins a contest in which the Ryan budget is a centerpiece of the GOP campaign, then perhaps enough Republicans will be ripe for a Bowles-Simpson- or Gang of Six-style compromise next year. Perhaps, under this scenario, enough Republicans will concede that the country can’t afford more tax cuts.
Conversely, if a Romney-Ryan ticket unseats Obama, then the Romney administration might have a clear electoral mandate. And with such a mandate, the GOP could begin to honestly reshape the public’s expectations about the level of government services it will receive in the future.
Now Romney has gone and done the deed.
My first coherent reaction, after “Wow,” is that Paul Ryan symbolizes the Romney campaign’s Plan B. George Will conjectures that Romney’s reasoning went something like this:
Obama’s desperate flailing about to justify four more years has sunk into such unhinged smarminess that Romney may have concluded: There is nothing Obama won’t say about me, because he has nothing to say for himself, so I will chose a running mate whose seriousness about large problems and ideas underscores what the president has become — silly and small.
Will’s theory is ridiculous. Romney didn’t pick Ryan out of some combination of intellectual superiority and righteous indignation. After a brief post-primary honeymoon, Plan A — keep your head down and let the economy do the work — stalled. Of late, Romney was clearly losing ground.
And he so he took the Last Train to Janesville.
I suspect the Romney-Ryan ticket is a loser. It’s not necessarily going to be victimized by another “Mediscare” campaign, although that will undoubtedly figure in Democrats’ attacks on the GOP this fall. It’s not so much the overall budget proposal, either. On that score, I noticed Glenn Reynolds touting Gallup polling that shows more seniors support Ryan’s Medicare budget than the one Obama last proposed. That shouldn’t surprise us: seniors trend Republican, and Ryan’s plan won’t affect their Medicare status quo.
Ryan, I think, is a perfect character for the movie that the Obama campaign is making about the Romney campaign. Put simply, Obama’s Romney is an overprivileged rich white guy who wouldn’t think twice before screwing you — if screwing you means a healthy profit for overprivileged white guys. Now, along comes Mr. Ryan and his cause-not-a-budget manifesto. If Romney is the meal, Ryan is the perfect wine with which to pair him. Returning to movie metaphors, Ryan is the evil nerd — he’s Theo in Die Hard, the computer jockey who figures out how to open the vault. And Romney is Hans Gruber.
Bill Kristol put his finger on this: Americans, in the right mood and under the right circumstances, might swallow the kind of entitlement reform that Ryan favors. They might swallow cuts in discretionary spending programs. What they likely won’t — and in my opinion shouldn’t — swallow is a campaign that asks them to accept these cuts when they’re necessitated by yet more tax cuts for the wealthy.
If Romney is defeated and Ryan is marginalized in the next Congress, with a little luck, real deficit hawks like Sen. Tom Coburn might then step into the spotlight.