If I were helping a presidential candidate pick a running mate, I would break down personality traits, strengths, weaknesses and whatever else matters into a series of lists. After digesting Mitt Romney’s decision to pick Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, I still cannot understand the logic and strategy behind it. So here is my list of considerations, and why Paul Ryan doesn’t really fit into any of them.
1. Making up for Something:
Barack Obama was a freshman senator when the country was nervous about his experience, while we were fighting two wars. Picking Joe Biden to be the elder advisor helped quell those concerns. What is Paul Ryan making up for? Mitt Romney’s lack of “Washington experience?” That’s not something candidates advertise these days.
2. Delivering a State:
The conventional wisdom for vice presidential choices is that they deliver their home state -- preferably an important swing state. Picking Bob McDonnell might’ve helped Romney in Virginia, picking Rob Portman might’ve helped in Ohio. But Paul Ryan’s not even a statewide-elected official in Wisconsin. To top it off, he’s already controversial.
3. Distancing Yourself:
George W. Bush was so unpopular that John McCain needed to put distance between him and his party’s standard-bearer. Sarah Palin was so outside the box that it made sense (if only for a fleeting moment). But Paul Ryan? He is part of the club -the club that has a 10% approval rating from the American people: the Republican-led Congress. Every time he gets introduced across the country, they’re going to say “Congressman” before his name.
4. Reaffirming Your Image:
Bill Clinton and Al Gore were young and energetic. They looked good together as a team. If Romney picked Bob McDonnell, he would’ve been able to make an argument about outsider governors who promise to create jobs. Mitt Romney has a son Paul Ryan’s age.
5. Paul Ryan Comes with Serious Baggage:
What exactly is the merit of picking a man who has already put out a budget that’s been deemed “radical?” The Ryan Budget wants to slash and burn Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, basically cutting the entire budget except for defense spending. Is that going to be Romney’s platform? Why would someone appealing to the general electorate want to attach themselves to something so dangerous?
6. The Convention Speech:
Wild cards deliver the most during their convention speeches. In 1984, the only moment when the Mondale/Ferraro ticket was beating Reagan/Bush in the polls was the night of Geraldine Ferraro’s convention speech. Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention speech was by far the highlight of her candidacy. For both fateful campaigns, hardly anything went right after those moments. We’ll see if this choice follows that pattern.
7. The VP Debate:
The worst part of the Ryan Budget is what it will do to seniors. He wants to slash Medicare and phase out Social Security. Ryan will find himself on the stage next to Joe Biden, who will be debating for the last time in his political life. You better believe he’s going to bring it. And when a gray-haired, passionate debater like Biden is ripping into him for wanting to put most seniors into poverty, the optics will not be good for Paul Ryan.
Sure, Paul Ryan might excite the base a bit. He’s young, charismatic, everything Mitt Romney isn’t. But I’m pretty sure the base is already excited about a chance at beating Barack Obama. And I’m not sure that Paul Ryan being young and charismatic helps the guy at the top of the ticket.
If I cared about Paul Ryan, I’d be ecstatic. He gets to forego the challenge of getting elected statewide as a controversial Washington insider and become an instant frontrunner for the next time Republicans pick a nominee. But If I cared about Mitt Romney winning, I’d seriously have to scratch my head and ask, why?