The subject of whom Mitt Romney would select as his running mate has been swirling for several months. Now we know that it is Congressman Paul Ryan, what are the implications?
After several months of wild speculation surrounding the Republican Vice Presidential pick, which has included everyone from Chris Christie to Condi Rice, Mitt Romney has named Representative Paul Ryan. In doing so, Governor Romney has ensured that this will be far from a tame, event-free general election. Indeed, the decision appears to have finally ignited interest in the race, passion in Republican supporters and has the potential to spark similar sentiment in the Democratic ranks.
As the author of the much-vaunted Ryan budget proposals, the Republican vice presidential candidate brings a great deal to the ticket; assets and liabilities that will be utilised and exploited by both friend and foe alike in the coming months. As I discussed on Sky News this weekend, Ryan’s presence on the ticket ensures that the American electorate will be presented with a clearly defined choice this November.
What then, are the advantages that Representative Ryan brings?
1. He is NOT Sara Palin. The last minute, poorly vetted fiasco of 2008 has not been repeated, ensuring that Romney has secured the talents of a smart and able young running mate, whose intelligence and ability to answer questions from Katie Couric is not in question.
2. Ryan’s standing with the Tea Party movement should placate those members of the movement that feel they have been sidelined thus far in the presidential process. Clearly Mitt Romney was not the Tea Party’s candidate of choice, but by reaching out and embracing Congressman Ryan, Romney should have done enough to ensure that they turn out and vote Republican in November.
3. Ryan’s presence appears to have already energised what was a rather tame Republican ticket. His unveiling ahead of the convention in Florida ensures that delegates will head to Tampa excited by the ticket, rather than vexing over any shortcomings in Romney’s resume and tax records.
4. Ryan’s age, vitality and recognised intelligence stand in sharp contrast to the current Vice President, Joe Biden, more renowned for gaffes than for policies.
5. In endorsing Ryan, Romney is by extension endorsing the Ryan Budgetary proposals, since this is Ryan’s defining policy. Without his budgetary proposals, Ryan would be just another member of the lower chamber of Congress and an unimaginable candidate for the presidency. His budgetary proposals have elevated him to a position of leadership within the House of Representatives and the Republican Party. By naming Ryan, Romney is allying himself to his partner’s budgetary and spending proposals, which will endear him to the right, but which, as we shall see shortly, ensure a barrage of criticism from the left.
6. By selecting Ryan, Romney has guaranteed that the economy and welfare reform will be central to the campaign. This will make life uncomfortable for President Obama who may be pushed into a foreign policy focused campaign as a result. To do otherwise will risk drawing attention to his deficiencies in the vital areas of welfare and the state of the economy. The alternative will be to initiate a totally negative campaign focused on the Romney/Ryan plan, the like of which Democrats attacked Romney over during the initial primary season.
Whilst the nomination of Congressman Ryan brings with it considerable benefits to the Romney camp, there are also serious impediments to consider:
1. Romney introduced Ryan as “an intellectual” who had been in Congress for 14 years. These are not usually terms of endearment for Republicans and it is easy to imagine these very attributes being portrayed as liabilities in opponents. Indeed, to many in the Republican movement, they are far from ideal and it will be interesting to see how these elements are addressed during the campaign. 14 years is a long time to be in the lower house and there will certainly be uncomfortable voting records for the Congressman to address (including his votes in favour of the bailouts of GM and Wall Street), which Democrats will be eager to exploit in revenge for the savaging that Senator Kerry received in 2004.
2. Romney’s embrace of Ryan enables the White House to link Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital with the cuts espoused in the Ryan Budget plan. The combination will enable the Obama team to portray the Republicans as Robber Barons; vindictive slashers of public services, out to deny seniors their rightful retirement protections and healthcare provisions. The approach that the White House is guaranteed to take on this issue will ensure that Florida, with its elderly population, will be an even more vital state than usual and will undoubtedly be the venue of intense and at times vitriolic advertising aimed at scaring the living daylights out of American seniors.
3. With Ryan’s selection, there is a total lack of foreign policy experience on the Republican ticket. This election cycle could therefore see a bizarre inversion of politically accepted norms, in which the Republicans under Romney and Ryan run on domestically focused economic issues, whilst the Democrats under Obama are forced away from this traditional position to an embrace of strong foreign policy and national security issues, on the premise that the president “killed bin Laden.”
4. Historically, vice presidents have been chosen to add balance to a ticket. This may be geographic balance (north/south, east/west), exemplified in 1960 with Kennedy’s selection of Lyndon Johnson. Balance may also be expressed in terms of age, and again 1960 is a classic example of this, with Johnson’s maturity contrasting with JFK’s youth. Balance may be struck in terms of gender, such as the Mondale/ Ferraro ticket of 1984 and the McCain/Palin ticket of 2008. Finally, balance can be struck in terms of ethnicity, such as Obama/Biden in 2008. None of these elements are adequately addressed in the selection of Paul Ryan and so the Republican ticket is bereft of ethnic, gender or regional balance. Neither does the Republican ticket in 2012 include a Veteran or a Protestant; points that could be significant considering the traditional Republican embrace of God and the military. Indeed, for the first time ever, both main parties have a Catholic on the ticket as vice president.
5. Whilst every presidential candidate wants to have his VP selection recognised as being a smart first choice, the risk for Romney is that his running mate overshadows him. Ryan is a recognised economic/welfare planner with 14 years experience in Congress. Romney is not known for his tenure in office or for his intellectual dynamism. His reputation for being a lightweight risks being exacerbated by his selection.
6. Despite the content of speeches and campaign advertising, the American Presidency is rarely won on issues. It occasionally depends on personality. It is always a matter of figures and the figure that counts is 270. The big question ultimately is simply: Does Ryan help Romney get to the magic number of 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency? This is the bottom line reason for choosing a running mate. It should not be about personal dynamics or compatibility. It needs to be a cold-hearted calculation: Will this individual help or hinder the electoral chances of the ticket?
Every candidate needs to consider the states that they are likely to win, states they hope to win and states that they are likely to lose, in order to plan a campaign that will deliver victory. In this calculation, a viable candidate must be able to guarantee carrying their home state. (Gore’s failure to win the presidency in 2000 was not helped by the loss of his home state of Tennessee). However, in 2012, neither Romney nor Ryan can take such a fact for granted.
Romney has historical ties to Massachusetts and Michigan. He was governor of the former and grew up in the latter. However, both are recognised as being traditional Democratic strongholds. Massachusetts will not vote for Romney as a favourite son in November and it is highly unlikely that Michigan will either. Obama carried Romney’s home state of Michigan with 57.4% of the vote in 2008, over 16% ahead of his Republican rival. Michigan alone is worth 17 Electoral College votes.
The situation with regard to Ryan in Wisconsin, with its 10 Electoral College votes, is even worse. Whilst Ryan has gained in popularity since his first election and received 64% of the vote in 2008, that same election saw Obama outpoll McCain in Ryan’s own district 51.4% – 47.4%. Statewide, Obama won Wisconsin with a 13.9% margin over McCain, carrying 56.2% of the vote. Ultimately, McCain carried only 13 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Despite all of the heat that will be generated in the coming weeks and months the two Republican candidates are starting the campaign in the unenviable position of being unlikely to carry their home states.
The selection of Ryan has energised an otherwise dull campaign. The degree to which this is maintained will be fascinating to see. For far too long, voters have complained that there is little to choose between candidates. In selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has ensured that there will be a clear and distinct policy option presented to the American voters this November. The one winner in all this is Paul Ryan, who like Sarah Palin before him, has been propelled to international renown in the blink of an eye. His statements and appearances in the coming weeks will do much to decide if his next four years will be sent in the Vice President’s residency or in Congress planning his own bid for the presidency in 2016…