In the game of politics, each team needs its captains. And now, we know who the captains are: for the Democrats, it’s still Obama-Biden. And for the GOP, it’s now Romney-Ryan.
The 2012 election shifted gears Saturday with Mitt Romney’s surprise announcement that Congressman Paul Ryan is his vice presidential nominee.
The reason I say that is that for some time, the polls — both nationally and in North Carolina have been fairly stable, almost evenly divided, with perhaps a slight advantage to President Obama in several key swing states.
Early on it appeared the Romney campaign was trying to make the election a “referendum” focused solely on Obama’s administration. But with no real movement in the past few weeks, it looks like a game changer was needed to shake things up for the GOP.
Now, this isn’t the game changer like McCain picking Palin, but Ryan’s selection does make this election more about a “choice” between Obama and Romney and the philosophical and ideological direction the nation wants to head in.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan set out to do something that no other Republicans have been willing to seriously do: Lay out a starkly different counterproposal to the president.
Some advantages to Ryan’s vice presidential candidacy:
- His youth. He won his Wisconsin House seat in 1998 at the age of 28.
- His policy wonkishness. He is a lover of policy and gets into the weeds deeply. “If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose” he said in an interview.
- He represents not only the fiscal conservative branch of the GOP, but also is a direct appeal to the Tea Party wing of the party.
He is also a deep thinker in conservative philosophy, having read Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand, whose philosophy of intense individualism is said to drive him against what he sees as European collectivism.
Another advantage may be possibly bringing Wisconsin more into a swing state status — but remember, he hasn’t run a state-wide campaign there, and presidential elections are very different from mid-term and recall elections.
The recent recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker saw 2.5 million votes cast, while the 2008 presidential election saw nearly 3 million votes cast.
But with those advantages come some disadvantages:
- His youth. Ryan is 42, but many believe that he is much younger. While he has a great deal of expertise in fiscal policy, his limitations on foreign policy matters may be an avenue of attack — much like Palin’s lack of experience beyond “seeing Russia from her backyard.”
- His political experience. Romney has made it a point that President Obama came to office without any private sector experience. As someone who has worked in government since his college days, Ryan doesn’t bring that private sector experience to bear, and this may blunt Romney’s attack on the president.
- He dissented from the Bowles-Simpson Commission, and voted for TARP and auto bailouts.
But the biggest issue may be his budget plan that calls for revamping Medicare — especially in a critical swing state like Florida, with a significant number of retirees.
It will be interesting to see the reaction to Ryan. I suspect most of it will come from the base of the party. Romney has definitely made a decision to go with base-party politics this fall, rather than perhaps concentrating on the independent swing voter.
And while Tea Party Republicans were enthralled with Ryan’s introductory speech, Democrats have to be pleased as well. They now have their concrete candidate and specific policies to hammer their message machine against.