I wanted to wait a few days before commenting on this story, especially since it was wall-to-wall coverage most of the weekend. There is a lot to digest with this pick. The golden boy from Wisconsin is loved by conservatives and hated by liberals. He’s a wonk with sex appeal (how often do you get to say that), and he is not a bad speaker either. Most of the coverage has focused on the central question: what is going through Mitt Romney’s mind? While I don’t know the details of Mitt’s vetting process, I do have three reasons why this pick is important for the Romney campaign:
1) Ryan excites the Republican chattering class: The intellectual wing of the GOP likes Paul Ryan. I mean they really like Paul Ryan. If the Weekly Standard was a high school, all the writers would have pictures of Paul Ryan inside their lockers. I watched Fox News for part of the morning after Ryan was pick and the atmosphere was electrifying. Every commentator called this pick a “game changer” (of course that may not have good connotations). While the writers at National Review plan to vote for Mitt Romney without this pick, having them excited will make the conservative base excited. Fox News and conservative media have a lot power and the base does listen to them. Elites have the power to persuade (to borrow a phrase used for presidents). By picking Ryan, Romney is going for a top-down persuasion strategy through conservative media.
2) This Pick Separates Him from W.: George W. Bush has not been mentioned much this election. Currently, he is like Voldemort on the right (no one dare speak his name) and Romney does not want to be compared to Bush. This is especially true on the deficit. There is a fear in the minds of some on the right that Mitt will promise deficit reduction, but, in the end, he will spend like drunken sailor once he gets into office. Republicans already have a trust deficit with Romney over his healthcare plan looking exactly (in fact the model for) President Obama’s plan. By putting a man with the plan on the ticket, Mitt Romney shows that he really cares about the deficit and will not repeat the Bush years.
3) No Sarah Palin PTSD: When Barry Goldwater (a conservative ideologue) lost the 1964 presidential race to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, the GOP made a collective vow not to pick another candidate that was too far to right. It could be argued that Ronald Reagan was the byproduct of that campaign 15 years later, but there is certainly some disagreement I have on that point. As time passed, Goldwater’s legacy loomed pretty large over the Republican Party, turning to legend. I think a similar argument can be made about Sarah Palin and the vice presidency. To some Republicans, Sarah Palin was a risky choice as John McCain’s running mate and that risk partially caused his downfall in 2008. This time around, Republicans wanted Mitt Romney to play it safe and pick someone who was plain (like a Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman). Picking Paul Ryan as VP gets the GOP past another Goldwatereque legacy with Sarah Palin. Romney shows the Republican Party that it should not be afraid of risky vice presidential picks, which is easier to do now than forty-years from now.
These are probably not the reasons Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, but they are affects of choosing Ryan. Certainly this changes the tone of race. It will take until election day to decide whether it changed the game in Romney’s favor or not.