Paul Ryan for Vice President

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 11, 2012

The choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate is everything that most political observers say it is; bold, daring, and an effort to ensure that the Republican ticket is an intellectually serious one. No one can deny Romney’s raw brainpower, and the only people who deny Ryan’s are the ones who disagree with him politically. The fact of the matter is that Ryan has awesome political talent, a curious and quick mind, and a genuine passion for policy. One ought to want those kinds of qualities in a presidential or vice presidential candidate, and for all those who craved an adult conversation about issues–as opposed to childish conversations about whether Harry Reid’s lies might be true, or about accusations that Romney helped kill someone’s wife–the choice of Paul Ryan ought to be looked upon as manna from Heaven.

The words “smart” and “serious” get thrown around a lot, but Ryan actually is smart and serious. He is a heavyweight in the policy debate who knows how to set the tone and tenor of that debate. He is strikingly well-versed and articulate when it comes to domestic policy issues, and he knows how to combine his vast domestic policy knowledge with an ability to get under Barack Obama’s skin:

The president plainly doesn’t like Ryan because Ryan knows how to show Barack Obama up on a regular basis. Republicans can look forward to Ryan doing a lot of that during the campaign. He will take the fight to the Obama campaign in an eloquent and effective way–a fact evident from his first speech as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate:

A vice presidential selection cannot win an election, but it can lose one. With Ryan on the GOP ticket, no loss will likely be attributed to a lack of enthusiasm among the GOP base. Republicans love Ryan and his placement on the ticket will do as much as any vice presidential selection can to ensure the base’s willingness to both vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket and to work as hard as possible to bring about that ticket’s victory in November.

This is not to say that there aren’t ways in which the Ryan pick might hurt. While Team Obama has no chance whatsoever to use the Ryan pick to dilute Republican enthusiasm, it certainly will try to use the pick to turn moderates and independents against the Romney-Ryan ticket. Now that Team Obama has broken new ground in accusing Mitt Romney of helping to kill someone laid off after Romney left Bain Capital, it will not hesitate to make similar accusations about Paul Ryan and his budgetary roadmap. Heck, those accusations have already been made, and they were made in the most despicable fashion imaginable. In a better world, there would be preemptive media pushback against the kind of sick demagoguery that was employed to “argue” against the Ryan plan, but of course, we don’t live in a better world. Rather, we live in a world which has a media that is predominantly in favor of Team Obama’s victory this November, so we shouldn’t expect objectivity from the media in covering the election. It will be up to the Romney-Ryan ticket to punch back as hard as possible against Team Obama’s efforts to demonize the two Republican candidates and to return the conversation as often as possible to the Obama administration’s failed economic record.

There will be an attempt on the part of Team Obama to make this election into an ideological choice rather than into a referendum on the Obama administration’s failed policies. The Romney-Ryan ticket ought not to shy away from philosophical arguments regarding the size, scope and role of government, but it should work to ensure that the spotlight remains on Barack Obama’s performance in office, and the economic misery that his policies have helped perpetuate. 1980 presented a stark ideological choice as well, but Ronald Reagan managed to ensure that the question driving Americans to the polls was whether they were better off than they were four years ago. The result of that election, of course, was a Reagan landslide. I don’t know whether the Romney-Ryan ticket can win in a landslide (in all likelihood, however this election turns out, it will be a close one), but if it succeeds in making the election about Barack Obama and his failure to deliver for the American people, it can win. And winning–by whatever margin–is what matters the most.

Already, there are efforts to make Ryan look bad. Ryan Lizza shows that he can concern-troll with the best of them by stating that “Ryan has no significant private-sector experience.” One wonders whether he has taken a look at all of the private sector experience–or lack thereof–that the Obama-Biden ticket has to offer. Lizza also claims that Ryan has little governmental experience. I guess that means that 14 years as a congressman and time spent as a congressional staffer doesn’t count–or somehow counts less than does Barack Obama’s mere four years in the United States Senate, and 7 years in the Illinois state senate. Lizza states that Ryan is not sufficiently acquainted with foreign policy, but foreign policy votes are taken all the time in the House of Representatives, and Ryan has had to familiarize himself with all of the issues associated with those votes. Besides, does anyone really think that Barack Obama’s four years in the Senate and occasional appearances on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee really count as “foreign policy experience”?

Ben Domenech argued for Ryan as the vice presidential pick over a week ago, and made some very good points in doing so:

A Romney-Ryan ticket would refocus both campaigns on entitlements, fiscal policy, and issues of debt  and deficit immediately – issues that Romney feels he can lead on, where Obama has not, and where Ryan is an expert in arguing in the public square. Ryan sends a message about the seriousness of the fiscal challenge we face, one that Portman and Pawlenty do not.

What’s more, the attack is coming anyway. This fall, the left will tie Romney to Ryan’s ideas regardless of whether he’s the choice. The White House is going to blanket Florida with “they’re going to kill you” ads; so if you’re going to get the granny over the cliff ads anyway, why not get a guy fully experienced in responding to them?

Having your best defender on an area of policy on your ticket is an advantage. Ryan’s ability to defend his policies, and his improvement in making the case for them, would be a strong asset for Romney. Ryan has been thoroughly subjected to the media gauntlet and the pressure of the White House. He is used to the hot lights now, and comfortable making the case for his ideas. Ryan’s argument for his approach has also improved dramatically in the past year or so – where his opponents still talk numbers, he talks increasingly of morality.

And as Robert Costa noted prior to the pick becoming official, Mitt Romney’s bond with Ryan is of a piece with Romney’s habit of elevating very smart people to very important positions:

As Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has risen in the vice-presidential sweepstakes, a few political observers have joked that the athletic 42-year-old congressman, with his jet-black hair and square jaw, looks like one of Romney’s five sons. But according to Romney confidants, Ryan’s appeal to the former Massachusetts governor is more professional than filial.

“He is the kind of smart, young guy that Mitt likes and Mitt would have probably hired at Bain,” says Mike Murphy, a former Romney adviser. “He shares the intellectual talent and positive outlook of the guys who Mitt mentored for decades.”

Back when he was running Bain Capital, Romney was known for following a management method called the “Bain Way.” In their book, The Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman describe it as “intensely analytical and data driven.” It required a “healthy ego,” the authors write, “to go into a business and tell an owner how to run his own firm better.”

[. . .]

Edward Conard, a partner at Bain Capital from 1993 to 1997 and the author ofUnintended Consequences, tells NRO that Romney’s effectiveness was sharpened by his relationships with the rising-star consultants he recruited, so he is not surprised to see Romney form a bond with the analytical Ryan. Romney may not have been an overly warm figure in the office, he says, but he was clearly drawn to uber-competent thinkers.

“I saw it firsthand,” Conard says. “Romney challenged us to challenge each other, and he was never afraid to ask tough questions, or answer them. He surrounded himself with the sharpest, most talented guys and ran the place like a consulting firm, where employees were expected to create value, to do their homework, and present proposals rooted in facts. In Ryan, you see that kind of politician; he’s not slinging bull.”

We have had four years of glitz and glamour in the White House. It’s high time to replace it with intellectual seriousness.

Again the Ryan pick is not without its risks. But at the end of the day, Mitt Romney selected a smart, hardworking, very politically astute and policy wonkish vice presidential candidate who clearly gets along well with the man at the top of the ticket, who excites the base, who is quick on his feet and knows how to defend himself against attacks, who is more than capable of carving Joe Biden up in a debate, and most importantly, is prepared to become president of the United States on a moment’s notice. That’s basically all that one can ask for.

I don’t know whether the Romney-Ryan ticket will win. The odds appear to still favor an Obama re-election; beating an incumbent president is very hard to do even in times like these, and it is especially hard to do when the incumbent president is as politically vicious and without scruples as Barack Obama has so clearly proved himself to be. But I do know that I will be very proud to cast a vote for Mitt Romney for president, and Paul Ryan for vice president. And I can only hope that at least 50% of the electorate and at least 270 votes from the Electoral College agree with me.

  • alanhenderson

    This whole subject brings to mind the common refrain from certain quarters that the GOP should  veer toward the center. I have a question: has a centrist policy ever actually fixed anything?

    • Shootist

      Times were pretty good during the Truman and Eisenhower years. Neither men were what you could call conservative, for their day, nor were they an Adlai Stephenson liberal.

      Nixon was a moderate. Reagan a moderate (and a neo-con in the traditional sense of the word). Bush, Clinton and Bush were moderates compared to Obama.

      • alanhenderson

        Centrists are a bit like Tim Allen on “Home Improvement.” They know what they are doing, but only part of the way.

        When they are successful, it’s because they are implementing a policy that is not middle-of-the-road. The list of America’s centrist policies does not include Manhattan Project, or Paul Volcker’s tight-money policy to cure the hyperinflation problem (following M. Friedman’s prescription in Free to Choose), or outgunning the Soviets beyond their capacity/technology to keep up, or deregulating the airlines (which made air travel more affordable).

        The closest thing to a fix that comes from the center is Dubya’s limits on stem cell research funding, which the Left dishonestly labeled as “stem cell ban.” Washington would fund research using embryonic stem cells if the stem cell lines were created before the bill’s passage. It wasn’t a fix because of the Left’s intransigence (to put it very mildly). Personally I’m not crazy about the government funding ANY civilian research.

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