Ryan shifts campaign conversation

August 16, 2012


Mitt Romney is a very conventional Republican of a very different age. He has roots in 1960s Republican orthodoxy. His personal style, if not his political instincts, is deeply conservative. He respects authority, precedent and history.

But had he decided to run a conventional Republican challenge against President Barack Obama this fall, he would have flown Saturday to San Diego and announced the identity of his running mate — someone like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, all reasonableness and Ivy League, but not Wall Street nor Tea Party — on the USS Midway.

Instead, Romney flew east, to Virginia, an important swing state, and stood before the USS Wisconsin and announced that he had selected Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the intellectual wunderkind of the new conservatism. Ryan is no midway selection. He is, to choose a redolent phrase from another era, a choice, not an echo.

That was the phrase used to describe Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964 — a conservative choice and not an echo of the Republican mainstream that had produced two doomed candidacies by Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York and one by Vice President Richard Nixon of California.

Not a Goldwater repeat

Today, no one suggests that Ryan is a Goldwater figure, nor that the new Romney-Ryan ticket is headed toward losing 44 states the way Goldwater did nearly a half century ago. Romney is a far stronger candidate than Goldwater, his incumbent rival is far weaker than Lyndon B. Johnson was only 11 months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and his running mate, Ryan, the first House member to join a GOP ticket since Goldwater chose the almost unknown William Miller of Lockport, N.Y., is far more accomplished and far more visible than Miller. Indeed, when Goldwater completed his acceptance speech in the Cow Palace in the summer of 1964, a political commentator, astonished at a speech that deplored moderation in the defense of liberty, said, “My gosh, he’s going to run as Barry Goldwater.”

Romney’s selection of Ryan does not suggest that the former Massachusetts governor is going to run as Barry Goldwater, but it sure suggests he is not going to run as the Mitt Romney who ran a spirited but unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, nor as the Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, when he championed the health care law that Democrats now say is the model for Obamacare.

A sharp right turn

This is also a repudiation of the longtime doctrine of presidential politics, which stipulates that Republican candidates run to the right in the primaries and caucuses only to steer if not veer to the center for the general election. Romney has made a sharp right turn with his selection of Ryan, signaling his calculation that it is more important to motivate his base than to appeal to the center.

This decision reflects, probably shrewdly, the notion that there are dwindling numbers of undecideds in this election and that appealing to them only endangers the Republican faithful or the increasingly fervent Republican right, whose presence at the polls in November is utterly indispensable to Romney’s fortunes.

Echoes of ‘88 and ‘08

There are some important and very instructive echoes from 1988 and 2008 in this development.

Almost a quarter century ago, Vice President George H.W. Bush sought to give a youthful tint to his campaign against Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts by selecting Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as his running mate. At 41, Quayle was a year younger than Ryan but less at the center of the Reagan-era GOP debate than Ryan is now.

Four years ago, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was less conventional than Romney, nonetheless sought to change the dynamic and the nature of the political discourse by choosing a young, attractive darling of the right. That choice, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, was disastrous, as the self-proclaimed maverick soon became a rogue campaigner and swiftly displayed her unreadiness and unsuitability for national office.

Romney acted Saturday out of the same impulse but chose a running mate of substantially different character, experience and outlook. Like Palin, he is young and appealing, representing what John Kennedy would have called a new generation of leadership. Ryan is a fresh face to the vast majority of Americans who don’t watch the Sunday interview shows or read conservative blogs.

But along with his new ideas, symbolized by his budget proposals heavy on overhauling entitlements, Ryan brings real Washington experience and a heavy Capitol credential: his tenure as chairman of the House Budget Committee. Republicans and Democrats alike agree that Ryan’s 2010 budget plan would have, in the phrase Democrats used to disparage it, changed Medicare as we know it. This is a brave choice that offers a glimpse of the map Romney has chosen for the fall.

First, of course, he intends to contest Wisconsin, where Obama defeated McCain by 14 percentage points in 2008 but a place that has become a savage political battleground after the election two years ago of Gov. Scott Walker, who himself departed from Wisconsin Republican orthodoxy by mounting a fight against state workers and their union. In a close race, the state’s 10 electoral votes could be crucial, if not deciding.

Convention race won’t do

But Romney also has determined that a conventional race against an incumbent, which might mean running simply as the candidate who is not Obama, will not do this time around, not with Obama assailing Romney and his business record. Instead, with Ryan on the ticket, the Republicans now offer more than simply an alternative, but an entirely separate route out of the nation’s economic mess.

In addition, with this one decision, Romney has taken the focus off his own financial record and placed it squarely on Obama’s economic record — and on Ryan’s imaginative ideas.

“We’re in a different, and dangerous, moment,” Ryan said after being introduced by Romney. “We’re running out of time — and we can’t afford four more years of this.”

Few political conversations have the potential to adjust so swiftly and as completely as this one. Already the talk is of what Ryan believes, not of what Romney made at Bain Capital. For that reason alone, Romney may have hit pay dirt.

— David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Abdu Omar 5 years, 10 months ago

"In addition, with this one decision, Romney has taken the focus off his own financial record and placed it squarely on Obama’s economic record — and on Ryan’s imaginative ideas."

I thought it was Romney that was running for president, not Ryan. Ryan's plan should be to follow what Romney wants, not vice-versa. And, the American people have not forgotten Romney's financial record and if you conservatives think they have, I think you are wrong. Of course we want to see what he paid in taxes, if he paid anything. Bring on the tax returns and let's see what is happening.

For those of us on Social Security or Medicare, we should vote wisely or we will lose those two. We need them both, unchanged and properly funded. The government should not borrow from it as that is what is wrong with it. If the money was paid back, we would be in a better situation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the intellectual wunderkind of the new conservatism. Ryan is no midway selection."

There is nothing intellectual about Ryan-- it's pure plutocratic ideology, which requires an extreme dishonesty about basic math in order to achieve any sort of populist appeal to his Tea Party base.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

He's probably right in his analysis of problems with Medicare and SS. It's just his solutions that are all wrong.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

What has often been described as the third rail of politics, he's talking about topics that other politicians have been unwilling to talk about for a long time. Maybe his solutions are wrong. But it's a conversation that needs to happen.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

Ryan's "solutions" aren't solutions at all. The depth of his dishonesty precludes the possibility of a constructive conversation-- all we'll get from RyanRomney is demagoguery and class warfare.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

They have some good recordings of childrens' music at the library, jaywalker-- maybe you could find someone who'd listen to them with you and explain the lyrics to you, and that would cheer you up!!!

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

Be a little more irrational, bozo, you can do it...........

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

And why are you so well versed in children's music at the library?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

Oh, my bad. I thought that was a true expression of your own sadness, not an attempt to project your dissatisfaction with your life onto me.

Sorry, but I got nothin' for ya. Hope it works out.

Might I suggest that you seek help somewhere besides a general forum like this?

verity 5 years, 10 months ago

Exactly why would I have to respect him for taking his wife ice fishing on their first Valentine's Day as a married couple?

Katara 5 years, 10 months ago

A lot of people are not from the upper Midwest so that is an odd response.

Going ice fishing is also not any indication of one's wealth so that is also an odd response.

Your 3rd response is just odd on its face. You wouldn't have a clue as to what many liberals consider fun as I doubt you rub elbows with any at all.

verity 5 years, 10 months ago


Don't think it shows anything about his financial standing. Rich people don't go ice fishing? I do wonder if his wife was thrilled about it.

I agree that your third statement is really odd. I hang out with a lot of liberals and some conservatives. Law-breaking is not on our list of fun things to do.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

I wonder if Ryan will be invited to speak at the 2016 Republican convention.

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