Mitt Romney’s announcement last week of GOP “it-boy” Paul Ryan as his running mate surprised many Americans and pushed the Republican campaign into a new, more polarizing direction. Considering the media frenzy over the pick, the generally ceremonial position of vice presidency seems important to consider. Does the vice president really matter or is this all just hype?
In general, the vice presidential nominee does not define an election. But when that nominee falls at either end of the political spectrum, a VP pick can determine the future state of the nation. Paul Ryan, an ultra conservative, matters a great deal to American voters and politicians. His personality, attitude, and the basis for his selection all point towards a divisive, powerful term as vice president if Romney is elected.
For most of America’s history, vice presidents have not created their own policies. Rather, they encourage support for the sitting president’s policies and serve as an advisor. Vice presidents tend to, more or less, take a back seat in the administration. Certainly, they speak at events and host their own councils on pressing issues of the day. Ultimately, however, power rests with the president.
Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule.. Some vice presidents have taken decisions into their own hands and empowered the VP position. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, made multiple attempts at policy-making and taking charge, including influencing President Bush on the War on Terrorism. His two brief stints as acting president and the creation of the infamous Energy Task Force made him one of the most powerful vice presidents in history.
Paul Ryan has the potential to be as strong a policy-maker as Cheney.. His strong views, outspoken nature, and take-charge mentality could overshadow a Romney presidency. Basically, the VP pick really matters this time.
In fact, Romney and the GOP are counting on Americans caring about Ryan. Romney’s strategic selection of Ryan is a play at votes. Ryan appeals to the extreme right, a group that Romney has had trouble connecting with throughout his campaign. With Ryan on the ballot, Romney will get more votes from ultra conservatives.
Additionally, the GOP is counting on Ryan’s budget experience drawing in more voters. The economy is still a tremendous issue for Americans, and Ryan’s extensive work with fiscal policy as the Chair of the House Budget Committee could change the election. (That is, if the GOP is able to shift the debate back to the economy instead of Medicare.)
Paul Ryan is to the GOP campaign what Obama was to the Democrats’ 2008 campaign: an intelligent, young, and likeable candidate who could turn the economy around. His rebuttal to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address highlighted his complete willingness to share controversial opinions. He eagerly attacked Obama’s position on Medicare. Generally, vice presidential nominees tend to fade after the initial excitement over their selection. Ryan is not that type of nominee.
If the Republican ticket wins the general election, America will face a vice president whocould eclipse the president himself.