Paul Ryan: Risk and Opportunity

So, will Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as VP help or hinder his chances to defeat Obama?  That is the million dollar question Republican pundits and grassroots activists are frantically asking this week.


One serious flaw with much of the post-analysis of any VP selection during a presidential campaign is the singular focus on the pick himself without any regard for the top of the ticket.  All too often, the talking heads lose sight of the fact that the election still hinges upon the top of the ticket, irrespective of how exciting, bold, or banal the VP choice was leading up to the convention.  In this case, it is clear that Paul Ryan is a bold and risky choice (whether he is really as bold of a conservative as the media portrays him or not); however, it will be Romney’s choice as to how he utilizes the pick.  This is still mostly about Mitt Romney, not Paul Ryan.

If Mitt Romney continues to run a flaccid, rudderless campaign that is constantly on defense, the Ryan pick will accentuate his status as a besieged candidate incapable of going on offense.  The Ryan pick will simply supply team Obama with endless fodder to keep Romney in fetal position for the rest of the campaign.

On the other hand, if the Ryan pick represents a fundamental shift in tactics from Romney himself, then Ryan’s place on the ticket can provide the GOP a historic opportunity to take the case of free market healthcare reform and less dependency directly to the American people.  So far into the campaign, Romney has shied away from tarring Obama with his biggest liability – Obamacare.  With the exception of a few inspirational moments on the trail, Romney has failed to articulate the moral imperative of free markets, limited government, and decreasing dependency.  There is nobody who is armed with more ammo against Obamacare than Ryan.  Just take a look at this now-famous 6-minute video of him taking down Obamacare to Obama’s face.


Nor is there anyone who is better equipped and more experienced in articulating conservative policy reforms in the public square than Ryan.  The question is if Romney will use this opportunity to launch an offensive against the Food Stamp/Medicaid president, and offer a bold contrast on ideas, while pummeling Obamacare with bare knuckles.

What it means for the conservative base

For the most part, perception is reality in politics.  The media narrative is that Paul Ryan is an intrepid conservative crusader who will walk on fire to implement his reforms.  To that end, most of the public, including many rank-and-file conservative voters, will buy into that perception.  Those conservative voters will be energized, while the reaction from swing voters will hinge largely on how effectively Team Romney/Ryan defend and counterattack against the incessant class warfare.

However, Ryan is not an uncompromising conservative at all.  Nor is he a moderate.  He is a quite an enigmatic figure in Republican politics.  On the one hand, he has the smarts and the communication skills to articulate bold conservative ideas to the public, and more importantly, to provide the moral foundation for those ideas like few others on the political scene.  And unlike most other Republicans who talk one way while voting the other way, Ryan comes across as sincere.  The problem is that he often votes the other way.  Ryan voted for No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, TARP, the auto bailout, Davis-Bacon wage controls, the debt ceiling, and even the FY 2012 omnibus that vitiated his own budget that he so proudly promoted.


On the other hand, much of this is inside baseball.  To most people, he is a conservative reformer, and that is probably a good thing.  Moreover, a vice presidential candidate doesn’t vote; he rallies the base and articulates our policies.  Ryan is one of the best Republicans to fill the articulation vacuum – even though he doesn’t always walk the walk.  The one potential pitfall for conservatives is if Romney uses Ryan as an emotional weapon to pull congressional conservatives along with him when he desires to cut a deal.  We all saw what happened with TARP and the debt ceiling.  It is important that we still keep an arm’s distance from Ryan with the understanding that he doesn’t always follow the policies he espouses.

What it means for swing voters

There is no middle ground with this pick when it comes to Obama’s wild attack bull as it relates to Mediscare.  Either Romney chooses to grab the bull by the horns or he will be gored to death by the unrelenting assault.  Romney and Ryan must come out in front of the issue and articulate how it is only a premium support model that will sustain Medicare, inject free market forces into healthcare, and lower the overall cost of insurance throughout the market.  They must also engage in political jujitsu by turning Mediscare into a referendum on Obamacare.

If Romney ultimately rises to the occasion and lets Ryan shine in his new role, it will be up to those precious swing voters to decide whether they are as concerned about our fiscal problems as they claim to be.  We always hear how independents complain about the bitter partisanship and the lack of bipartisan voices working together to fix our nation’s policy problems.  Well, independent voters, you got your man.  Paul Ryan is a serious as they come about solving our fiscal problems, and is more than willing to work with Democrats to enact those solutions (just look how much Ryan-Wyden has watered down his original free market Medicare plan).  So, which is it going to be, Obama’s vacuous 30-second attack ads or Ryan’s serious, definitive, and amicable policy solutions?


Once again, ultimately this is not about Paul Ryan, it’s about Mitt Romney.  The question is not so much if Ryan will help Romney as it is if Romney will use the Ryan pick to help himself.  Will he rise to the occasion?

Cross-posted from The Madison Project


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