Home/Daniel Larison/“Big Ideas” and the Ryan Effect

“Big Ideas” and the Ryan Effect

Fred Barnes enthuses about “the Ryan Effect”:

Never before has a vice presidential candidate become a central figure in a presidential race. There was no Gore Effect in 1992 or Cheney Effect in 2000. And never have a running mate’s ideas become leading issues overnight, likely to dominate the campaign through election day.

I continue to doubt that there has been much of a “Ryan Effect” on the presidential race, but it might be helpful to reflect on why Ryan boosters are so desperate to proclaim that there is one. Ryan boosters have been arguing for months that he should be on the presidential ticket one way or another, and now that he is they have strong incentives to claim that their advice is already being vindicated. Even though the effect of Ryan’s addition on voters’ preferences appears to be minimal, it is necessary for Ryanmaniacs to insist that “the Ryan Effect turned the race upside down.”

If a vice presidential candidate has “never before” become a central figure in the race, no major party presidential nominee in decades has been as underwhelming or as unfavorably viewed by the public as Romney. Ryan is the consolation prize for movement conservatives and a distraction from the mind-numbing tedium of Romney for everyone else. There has not been so much public advocacy for any previous running mate as there was for Ryan, and there has not usually been so much obvious dissatisfaction with the presidential nominee channeled into enthusiasm for selecting the “right” running mate. If Ryan’s ideas now dominate the race, that would be because Romney had no ideas, or chose not to articulate any ideas that he did have.

Having said that, it is debatable whether Ryan’s ideas have really come to dominate the race. Ryan’s addition may serve as a largely symbolic gesture in the direction of those ideas. As David Graham put it recently, Romney is “[a]dopting the Ryan style while putting Ryan forward as a fresh-faced attack dog — and muffling or totally throwing out his policy stances.” The goal would seem to be to get credit from journalists and pundits for running on “big ideas” without having to run on them. Just like the GOP in 2010, they will run as the saviors of Medicare in the hopes of once again mobilizing elderly voters to turn out for them in large numbers.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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