The biggest opportunity that Romney had to control the direction of his campaign himself occurred this weekend as he selected Paul Ryan to be his vice-presidential running mate. It seems fairly clear that the Romney forces selected the most interesting, confident, and cleverest choice they had available to them. Ryan is young, bright, articulate, likeable, and sharp. He carries some baggage as did all of Romney’s options, but he will not be boring. He should be a steady and sturdy campaigner and should be a good compliment to the much more staid, controlled, and restrained style of Romney. All of that said in his favor, this decision was not just a safe political choice.
Despite all his positives and Romney’s attractiveness as a leader, something about this decision rings consistent with the structure and nature of the entire Romney campaign. Most candidates run on the edge, with a sense of anxiety and a lack of certainty. This campaign has been run so far with a sense of entitlement, and confidence which, while admirable, is totally atypical and delusional. So true the choice of Ryan.
Ryan may have sterling command of the budget details and have a clear sense of what he believes ought to be the direction for the U.S. economy for the next decade, but it has and will alienate very large segments of the voters when the Obama team campaigns against them. If indeed this is not the program of the Romney team, then Ryan and Romney will face enormous questions about who converted whom to their point of view. This also will be the case with respect to healthcare, Medicare, and many issues on the domestic agenda.
Ryan brings no more foreign policy or national security experience to the campaign than does the former governor of Massachusetts, except for some congressional votes. Neither was ever involved in anything approaching foreign policy problems and national security decision-making choices that Vice-Presidents Joe Biden, Dick Chaney, or Al Gore participated in before they joined their first national ticket. Given the nature of many of the international and security issues which the country faces, this may not be the best moment for the two leaders—bright though they might be—to govern by on-the-job training.
Paul Ryan will not be boring. He has a record and has never hesitated from speaking his mind or expressing his opinions. He may not have the wealth of the Romneys and his father may have died when he was 16, but his is hardly the story of the “kid” from Hope, Arkansas, or an African-American raised by his white mother and grandparents.
So the decision appears to have been made to shake up the public and the campaign. Things have not gone as well as they should have been going for the Romney team. The thought had to have been that this is a reasonable, articulate, exciting new, youthful face; hardly a Sarah Palin. For the key independent voters once the dust settles, it is not at all clear if this selection will turn things around.