US election: Mitt Romney's choice as running mate just made the election interesting
Written by Mark McKinnon Sunday, 12 August 2012 12:01
Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate for the Republican ticket is proof of the former Bain executive's business pedigree: a smart CEO picks an even smarter chief financial officer.
It's also proof, finally, of the former Massachusetts governor's political prowess: the race will now be about something important – a battle of economic ideas, with America's comeback as the ultimate prize promised.
And that's good for the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the nation.
The whipsmart, well-spoken, and telegenic Ryan, one of the original "Young Guns" – so named for the new, young faces recently added to the leadership of the "Grand Old Party" – is serving his seventh term as a member of Congress, representing Wisconsin, a largely agricultural area.
But not all is bucolic in this dairy state where a majority voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 but then for a Republican governor in 2010. An all-out war over rolling back costly collective bargaining agreements for public-employee unions was won by Republican Governor Scott Walker earlier this year, who became the first governor in US history to survive an attempt to oust him in a special "recall" election.
This presidential race is similarly about big choices and the burgeoning cost and role of government.
The nation faces record unemployment, a nearly $16 trillion debt and massive unfunded liabilities for future social security and Medicare payouts in a nation of ageing baby-boomers. But an impasse has been reached in Congress, with both parties unwilling to compromise and the president appearing powerless to make the real structural reforms needed.
In his address on Saturday morning, the newly-minted vice presidential nominee Ryan spoke of "turning ideas into action, and action into solutions".
"Politicians from both parties have made empty promises," he said, "which will soon become broken promises – with painful consequences – if we fail to act now ... We have a critical decision to make as a nation. We are on an unsustainable path that is robbing America of our freedom and security. It doesn't have to be this way."
And so, the gauntlet has been thrown. The race is now on.
There are really only four moments when a campaign has an opportunity to substantially affect public opinion: the announcement and rollout of the candidacy; the convention nomination speech; the debates; and the selection of a vice president.
While voters make their decision based on the name at the top of the ticket, the choice of a running mate can provide a boost in the polls and indicate the candidate's priorities.
By his choice of the young economic warrior Ryan, Mitt Romney will invigorate voters on the Right – but also opposition on the Left.
Representative Ryan rose to national prominence because he dared to go where no man had gone before, at least in recent years. He not only spoke of balancing the federal budget and reforming the nearly insolvent entitlement programs of social security and Medicare, he actually came up with the plans to do so.
Ryan provided the leadership the president did not.
For his efforts, he was vilified by the Democratic Party, portrayed pushing poor granny and her wheelchair over the cliff.
In reacting to Ryan's most recent budget proposal earlier this year, President Obama went on the offensive, saying: "Disguised as a deficit reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It's nothing but thinly veiled Social Darwinism ...
"By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last – education and training, research and development – it's a prescription for decline."
The imagery and the narrative are likely to worsen, as Ryan is both a dream and a nightmare for Team Obama.
By selecting Ryan, Romney refocuses the race as a referendum on President Obama's economic performance.
This is not what the Democratic Party wants. Though the president is still personally popular, the economic numbers don't work in his favour. With around 23 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, not many can say the nation is better off now than four years ago.
But Ryan as a VP candidate also gives them something to fight against. This is what the Obama campaign needs. The Republican's bold ideas for reform do not come without risk. And the Democrat Party wasted no time drawing a class divide within minutes of the announcement.
From Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina came this: "In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy ..."
You can expect to hear much use of the word "extreme".
The battle of political ideas is good for America. Romney has made the right choice.
Mark McKinnon, a former Republican strategist who worked on the campaigns of George W Bush and John McCain, is Global Vice Chair of Hill+Knowlton Strategies