GOP hopeful Mill Romney has chosen Paul Ryan, Representative from Wisconsin, as his running mate. It is a bold and serious choice – good for the country and good for Mr. Romney. Paul Ryan has served on the front lines of this country’s jarring budget debates, attracting a good amount of criticism for, among other proposals, his suggested overhaul of Medicare.
He has tweaked President Obama more than once, needling him for ignoring the issues that matter most to our country’s long-term prospects, and to voters. Unlike so many of his colleagues in Congress, he has not shrunk from the skirmish over how to fix our entitlements programs; by proxy, Mr. Romney is signaling that he, too, is ready to engage. This decision by Mr. Romney presents voters with a clear choice – a president who skips town when his hand-picked Simpson-Bowles budget commission is ready to deliver some unpleasant news- or a GOP team ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
For months, the short list of VP candidates included predictable contenders such as Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a steady and intelligent legislator who could help deliver an important swing state, and former presidential candidate and Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty who might enhance Romney’s appeal to the Tea Party crowd. Also on the list was Marco Rubio, an up and coming senator of Cuban descent who would have perhaps helped gin up the Hispanic vote for Romney. All three, and others like Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, would have been excellent candidates. All would have been politically-driven choices. All would have been safe.
In picking Ryan, Mr. Romney has departed from his predicted playbook, something the former Massachusetts governor has been reluctant to do. His campaign has been careful, methodical and a tad boring. He knows that President Obama is in trouble, and has allowed continued high unemployment numbers to direct his campaign. As the race has tightened, Republican supporters have pushed Mr. Romney to present voters with a more powerful message. They have urged Mr. Romney to expand beyond “I am not Barack Obama.” He just has.
To his fans, Mr. Romney presents the country with a formidable resume; his management and financial expertise, his success as a governor and his real-world experience distinguish him from Mr. Obama, who’s vaporous pitch still promises hope and change. Three years ago a dispirited country embraced hope and change – but now, the president is promising “change” from the past three years – his own term in office! That’s the essence of his campaign. Arguably, he hasn’t got much else. He can’t run on the scorned stimulus, nor the hated Obamacare – not even the complicated and incomplete Dodd-Frank. Those measures are controversial and divisive.
With the economy stuck in slow-mo, Mr. Obama can hardly talk up his economic prescriptions. Because his campaign fodder is so thin, the president has descended into the gutter, slinging the vilest mud about Mr. Romney and his career – to the point that even some of his Democrat backers, like President Clinton, have risen to Romney’s defense. It is distasteful in the extreme. It is not presidential.
The arrival of Mr. Ryan on the scene will demand more from the Obama campaign. He will inject into this race serious concern about our fiscal future – a future that Mr. Obama has ignored. The president’s campaign will now pivot to attacking Ryan, and especially his proposals to put Medicare on a sounder footing. They will attempt to scare seniors into thinking Ryan wants to strip them of their benefits, when of course the truth is just the opposite. I have faith in Americans. I believe they understand that our entitlements programs are in serious trouble, and in need of overhaul. The GOP team will have to craft a simple and straightforward explanation of how they will protect seniors; the good news is that Ryan has been at this for some time – he knows the drill. So does Romney.
Of course, we will all look forward to the vice presidential debates with some enthusiasm. If the moderator is balanced, the match-up between Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden should be a slam-dunk. Ryan is a self-professed policy wonk; Biden is a schmoozer with a penchant for gaffes. Mr. Biden would be well advised to approach the debates as a “f..ing big deal.”
The most profound impact of the Ryan pick is that it casts the Romney campaign in a new light – not quite so cotton-wooled. Let us hope that the choice signals a more aggressive and punchy approach. There are less than 100 days left; Romney-Ryan has an excellent case to make. Now they need to go out there and make it.