Why Paul Ryan?
So why did Mitt Romney choose Paul Ryan to be his running mate? It’s a pretty simple question. The answer, on the other hand … um … well, let’s see.
First, I want to take a brief moment to look at Paul Ryan. I suspect that I’ll be coming back to and addressing these points in more detail in the weeks to come, but a quick summary seems appropriate when looking at why Ryan was chosen.
I guess it probably doesn’t need to be articulated, but Ryan is clearly smarter than Sarah Palin. Of course, my kids are smarter than Palin and both seem to know as much about the Constitution and American history as she does, so I’m not sure that Palin is the proper standard against which to measure Ryan. But she was the last GOP candidate for Vice President, so… And so far, I haven’t seen any information tying Ryan to a Wisconsin separatist party or to African witch doctors. So that’s a plus, I guess. But, if anything, Ryan is probably more conservative than Palin. Yes, really. For example, when Katie Couric pressed Palin on the issue of an exception to her anti-abortion position for cases of rape or incest, Palin said that she was personally opposed and would not choose to have an abortion; but despite continued questioning from Couric, Palin never said in that interview that abortion should be illegal in cases of rape or incest. Paul Ryan, by contrast, was a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill that would likely outlaw abortion in cases of rape and incest, potentially limit access to birth control (in particular, the “morning after pill”), and most likely even outlaw such things as in vitro fertilization.
As to other social issues, Ryan opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, opposes same-sex marriage, voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, is a big supporter of gun rights (one of the two bills he’s passed in Congress had to do with the excise tax on hunting arrows … seriously), and doesn’t believe in global warming (he has, apparently a “Biblical understanding” of man’s relationship to the environment).
Of course, he’s most well known as author of the Republican budget plan that calls for converting Medicare into a voucher system, privatizing Social Security, drastically reducing Medicaid and Pell Grants, and exploding the deficit in order to give tax breaks to the wealthiest. I read an article over the weekend that applied Ryan’s budget plan to Mitt Romney’s 2010 tax returns (the only tax return that Romney has released) and found that, under Ryan’s plan, Romney would have paid, on his income of approximately $25 million, a tax rate of … I hope you’re sitting down … a whopping 0.82%. Again, seriously.
Oh, Ryan did support TARP and was one of the leading Republican voices advocating that bailout.
But let’s presume for a moment that Romney didn’t pick Ryan simply because Romney wants to adopt a plan that would virtually eliminate his own taxes. Instead, let’s look for another reason that Romney chose Ryan; or, perhaps, let’s look at why Romney didn’t pick some of the other possibilities.
Why does any candidate choose any particular running mate? Usually the calculus is to choose a running mate that either helps shore up a perceived weakness of the Presidential candidate (thus, for example, Barack Obama choosing Joe Biden to shore up Obama’s perceived lack of experience), to gain the support of a particular demographic (thus, at least in part, John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin to try to win the women’s vote), or to help gain support in a particular state or region (thus, for example, John Kerry choosing John Edwards to help Kerry in the South).
But picking Ryan doesn’t really seem to fit into any of those categories. Ryan may help Romney in Wisconsin, which is a toss-up state. But remember that Ryan has never run for statewide office in Wisconsin; he’s only been elected to Congress from a single district. Thus, it’s not clear that Ryan will necessarily even deliver Wisconsin to Romney in November. But if the choice were made on the basis of picking up an important swing state, then it seems that Romney would have chosen either Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida, or even Bob McDonnell of Virginia. All of those are, like Wisconsin, swing states, but all have more (and in the case of Florida and Ohio, many more) electoral votes than does Wisconsin.
I suppose the pick of Ryan could be aimed at appealing to Catholic voters, but it seems that choice would only “cancel out” Joe Biden who is also Catholic. I don’t really think that many Catholic voters will be swayed to vote for Mitt Romney because of a Catholic Vice President; rather, I think that Catholics who vote on abortion were already predisposed to vote for Romney while those who vote social justice were already predisposed to vote for President Obama. If Romney was choosing a candidate on the basis of religion, then Marco Rubio, who is also a Catholic might have been a wiser choice (given that he might also bring Florida and, perhaps, a larger share of the Latino vote). Or maybe Romney would have gone with someone from the evangelical community (Bob McDonnell again comes to mind). Given the unease that some may have with Romney’s Mormonism, I wouldn’t have been surprised with a pick clearly aimed at shoring up Romney’s support with evangelical Christians, but the choice of a Catholic doesn’t necessarily seem to have been aimed in that particular direction, especially when we consider the sometimes harsh rhetoric often directed at Catholics from certain segments of the evangelical community (anyone remember Pastor John Hagee, for example?).
I’m not going to insult women by suggesting that Ryan was chosen to help with the women’s vote because he’s handsome (is he?), but who knows just how cynical Romney really is. But given Ryan’s positions on issues like abortion and fair pay, it seems doubtful that he women’s vote was the target. If Romney had been looking to close the gender gap, he might have tapped South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (who is also Catholic), or even tried to further his “businessman, not politician” argument by choosing someone like Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina. I suppose that a certain argument could even have been made toward nominating former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (female, Jewish, moderate).
Clearly the choice of Ryan was not aimed at shoring up support among any particular ethnic group; after all, the one group that Romney probably needs the least help with is white men. Had Romney felt that he needed to increase his support with ethnic groups, he would most likely have chosen Marco Rubio (or perhaps Susana Martinez or even Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval) in the hopes of closing the gap with Latino voters. I could even understand the choice of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (ethnic Indian [as in India, not Native American]) or South Carolina Nikki Haley (also an ethnic Indian, though in her case from a Sikh background) just to be able to say, “Nope, not just white guys.”
I suppose that the choice of Ryan could be Romney’s attempt to capture the youth vote (or at least narrow the gap). But I don’t really think that Ryan, just because he’s young, addresses that particular voting cohort. Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems that to really make a play for the youth vote, Romney would have needed someone much better known to pop culture and who shares views on issues that are important to youth (gay rights, global warming, and so forth). I’m sure that there are Republicans who fit this particular bill, but off hand no names come to mind.
Which leads me to the two biggest electoral groups that I haven’t yet mentioned. And it seems to me that the Ryan pick is clearly designed to shore up base among one of these groups. If I’m right, then this spells trouble for Romney (and good things for the rest of us!). Which groups am I talking about? Independents/Moderates and the Tea Party.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see how Paul Ryan appeals to moderate or independent voters. He’s a far-right ideologue, further to the right than even Mitt Romney. Had Romney really wanted to try to move to the center, then there are certainly some Republicans closer to the political center that Romney could have chosen. But that’s not the direction that Romney chose, either.
Nope. He chose Paul Ryan.
And to me, that means only one thing. Mitt Romney made the choice that he felt necessary to shore up the most important part of his own electoral base: The Tea Party.
Ryan is a darling of the Tea Party. They love his budget. They love his desire to eliminate entitlements, shrink the deficit (even though his plan doesn’t really do that), and shrink government down to the size that a wingnut with a handgun really can stand up and refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants. I suspect that Ryan will help Romney consolidate support among the Tea Party (whether Romney can control or even co-opt the Tea Party is a different question…). But what does it say about the internal Romney view of the coming election that Romney chose a vice presidential running mate to help shore up the most reliable, most energized part of the GOP’s base and not the political center, a particular region, or a particular demographic?
It tells me that Romney and his advisors have realized that the billionaires funding the Romney campaign each get only one vote and that Romney needs to be sure that the core GOP base remains energized and turns out in November. It tells me that Romney is worried about winning the votes that he should have already locked down and has to spend his energy securing those votes before he can spend time worrying about independents and moderates. And it’s going to be fun to watch Romney try to sell the Tea Party on his agreement with Ryan’s budget plan at the same time that he tries to convince independents and moderates that he’s not running on Ryan’s budget plan. He’ll be flip-flop-flipping almost constantly; of course, Romney’s probably used to that by now.
Anyway, the choice of Paul Ryan tells me that Romney is in trouble.