This week, conservatives launched a concerted effort to get Mitt Romney to choose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as the Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee. I do not believe this will happen.
Their argument basically boils down to the need for Romney to emphasize “big issues” in his campaign. First among these is slashing entitlement programs, especially Medicare. Ryan is the perfect choice to have the election pivot on this issue because he is the author of a plan that has twice passed the House of Representatives that would essentially abolish Medicare.
While a program called “Medicare” would remain in existence under Ryan’s proposal, it would bear no resemblance to the program that now exists under that name. Instead of having their health care paid for by the government directly, as is the case now, the elderly would receive a voucher worth less than the per capita cost of Medicare presently that they could use to buy private health insurance.
Ryan just assumes that private health insurers would create policies that would provide equal benefits to what Medicare now provides, and does nothing whatsoever to ensure that such an option will exist when the existing Medicare program ceases to exist. Ironically, Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Ryan wants to repeal, actually creates a mechanism that would facilitate Ryan’s Medicare proposal.
It is safe to assume that Romney’s political advisers want nothing whatsoever to do with a vice president who will inevitably make the abolition of Medicare the centerpiece of his campaign. The Obama campaign will guarantee that this is the case.
An August 1 poll the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner clearly lays out how Democrats would attack Ryan’s plan and tie it like an anvil around Romney’s neck. The pollsters first ask voters whether they support the Ryan plan by describing it in the most favorable possible terms. People support it by a 52 percent to 37 percent margin. But when the plan is framed with precise details on how it would affect people, three-fifths to two-thirds of them have serious doubts or very serious doubts about the Ryan plan. In short, all Democrats have to do is present the facts about Ryan’s plan to make it a severe political liability for Romney.
There are other reasons as well why Romney is very unlikely to make Ryan his running mate.
For one thing, there are still a lot of conservatives with very serious qualms about Romney. Let us not forget that the only reason he got the Republican nomination is that he was the last candidate standing. At different times, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain, and former Senator Rick Santorum all led the Republican race in national polls.
Consequently, having to run with someone that many Republicans would prefer at the top of the ticket is not going to help Romney. More than likely, it will just remind them that he was their last choice to be the party’s nominee.
Another potential negative about Ryan, from Romney’s point of view, is that he is a devotee of the radical libertarian novelist Ayn Rand. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ryan credits Rand for getting him into politics. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan has said. According to New York Magazine, Ryan requires (or at least required at one time) his staffers to read Rand’s most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged.
While some Republicans would, no doubt, be delighted to have a Randian on their party’s ticket, there are many more that will be turned off by Rand’s atheism and disdain for religious fundamentalists.
While none of these issues are necessarily disqualifying, they point to a larger problem for Ryan—he doesn’t appeal to any constituency that isn’t already in Romney’s pocket. If he still needs to appeal to Randians and those that want to abolish Medicare, then Romney’s political problems are too deep to be repaired by putting Ryan on the ticket.
Moreover, John McCain’s experience with Sarah Palin points to the danger of running with a potential vice president who is more popular among the party’s base than the president. That’s why brides always make sure their bridesmaids wear ugly dresses—to make sure that all eyes are on her and not them.
All signs point to Romney nominating a “boring white guy” who is unquestionably qualified to be president, who won’t show him up, and who will hopefully carry a key state. Personally, I would put my money on Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.
As far as Ryan himself is concerned, I don’t think he has the slightest desire to be vice president. While it is a good stepping stone to the presidency even for those who don’t achieve the office through death of a president, I don’t think that is Ryan’s ambition.
I’ve known Ryan since he was an intern for Jack Kemp many years ago. He is a true policy wonk who would rather talk about economics, the budget, tax policy, monetary policy and financial markets than just about anything. Moreover, I think he is happy being chairman of the House Budget Committee and knows that he is young enough—he’s only 42—that 2012 is unlikely to be his last chance to move up from the House of Representatives.
I think if Ryan has any ambitions connected to Romney it would be to be his Office of Management and Budget director. In the event that Romney wins, I think he would take that job in a heartbeat. It’s a much better fit for both Ryan and Romney.