Posted by Brad @ 3:19 pm on August 11th 2012

So It’s Ryan

Damn. Got that one wrong.

I have to say, although Ryan’s name has never NOT been mentioned as potential VP, I’m more surprised than I thought I’d be at his selection. If Romney thought his campaign was on pretty solid ground, I don’t think he’d have selected him – a Portman or Ayotte or Jindal would make imminently more sense. A Ryan selection represents a gambit of sorts, but what’s interesting – and uncharacteristic – is what kind of gambit it represents. Namely, it signals a full intention to clarify and advance the argument, rather than settle for trying to coast on generalities and vaguely articulated discontent.

Which I have to say I sort of admire. And, before we get into the vagaries of it, I think the selection is ultimately a good thing, for the country, the party, and the election. What we will now be presented with is a very clear contrast between two well-intentioned and articulated ideologies. There is no Trojan Horsing here, on either side. On the one hand you’re going to have a campaign that is very upfront about what vision of government it represents – real fiscal reform, spending cuts, a real rejiggering of the national entitlement system and a real battlecry saying our currently system and structure of government is unsustainable, fundamentally, not just around the margins. On the other hand, they’ll be challenging a campaign that will rest fundamentally – and more clearly tomorrow than they were yesterday or would have in other VP scenarios – on the notion that attempting to scale back government in virtually any sector is a harm, that if something is good the government needs to spend money to do it, and that the fundamental function of government is not to referee but to run the plays.

And in a weird way, that’s…refreshing. It represents a very clear, clean choice, and the decision made here may have implications a lot more far reaching than who holds the Oval Office for the next four years. It really may define for us how Americans view the role of government – as a distributor or as an arbiter. As something intended to protect or something that is intended to provide. It really does pit the core of liberalism against the core of conservatism.

It won’t play out that cleanly on the day-to-day, of course. Romney will mush-mouth his way around Ryan’s budget, Obama will continue to gave paeans to fiscal conservatism (what he means by that will be all we need to do is repeal the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy), and we’ll still have all the 24-hour cycle crap. But, Romney, in choosing Ryan, has chosen to not run away from that contrast, but embrace it. I think that makes him more likely to lose – it’s really hard to run a campaign based on Americans getting less goodies – but I do have to give him some credit here in embracing it.

How does this play out then? Well, it’ll be interested to see to what extent Ryan’s selection puts entitlements back on the table as a core GOP argument. I think this also pulls in the Republican intelligentsia and grassroots to being fully behind Romney – watch that SuperPAC money come rolling back in, and watch those people who six months ago ran anxious features about a directionless cipher winning the Republican nomination to running glowing features about the dawn of a new era in conservatism. Some of that would have happened anyway, but I think this really does invest a lot of Republicanism in Romney’s campaign in a way that perhaps no other selection would have.

It does the same for progressives too, of course. But it’s here that I think the left has to be careful of overreach. I’ve already been surprised at how aggressively negative the left has been – both Obama’s team personally as well as the other quarters of liberalism. We’ve been told for months that Citizen’s United will open the doors to shadowy Republican financiers running huge smear operations, but I strongly suspect when it’s all said and done it’ll be the left that winds up pursuing a scorched earth approach here. Progressives have long wished Obama would get aggressive, and they are going to be falling all over themselves to go after Romney/Romney, but if I were them I’d be careful what you wish for. The Obama campaign runs a real risk of putting itself so far in the tank that it may wind up losing the middle, nevermind the prospect of governing or working with Congress over the next four years. I think a big part of Obama’s strength in 2008 was that he seemed a different kind of politician, as being nobler and smarter than your run-of-the-mill “Say Anything” candidate. He was also able to pull in the left while seeming basically acceptable and pretty unthreatening to moderates and even soft Republicans. That may change. It may be very, very hard to make the “conservative case for Obama” this time around, without redefining conservatism to mean liberalism. I have a feeling that the campaign may get nasty fast, and I have a feeling that nastiness is going to come primarily from the left, and all those things that NPR style liberals fretting about after Citizen’s United will play out primarily from THEIR quarter. That will be an interesting wrinkle to watch play out. Prepare for Mediscare – Napalm Edition, Occupy Madison writ large, The Private Sector is Inherently Evil, and so on and so forth. On a week-to-week or issue-to-issue basis it might, in the narrow view, seem perfectly justified, but I also have a hunch that, taken together, en masse, when it’s all said and done, the left have to be very, very careful of not drowning themselves in their own echo chamber and defining themselves, for a generation, as the party of Government Is Awesome and Everything Not Government Sucks! Which, if you’re operating under the premise that the reality of the next generation is that government is going to be breaking down more and more and that the days of avoiding hard choices on the local, state, and federal level are over, may play out violently.

I also think that liberals need to be careful for what they wish for in another sense. They’re going to jump all over themselves to vault Ryan as the Mastermind of conservative vision. And, in so doing, they might wind up doing Romney and Ryan a favor. They’re essentially going to be building the case that Romney would want to build anyway. And when Ryan steps forward and seems smart, able to articulate a vision, and nonthreatening, all that fervor that Ryan is the GOP Idea Man may be a double-edged sword in terms of character assassination. Ask Chris Christie how that worked out for him, when Democrats ran on a similar argument against him and turned him into a guy with a reputation for being a problem-solver rather than platitude-server. Romney’s problem from Day 1 is that he seemed like a guy that would say anything to get elected, but who had no core values or vision and could never be trusted to not go the way the wind blows. With Ryan, liberals are suddenly going to fall all over themselves in shouting from the rooftops “THESE GUYS BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAY AND ARE TOTALLY COMMITTED THE VISION THEY’RE ARTICULATING!”, and suddenly that problem, for Romney, is solved – a nice bit of jiu-jitsu in perhaps dissolving the central drag on his candidacy, from a character standpoint, almost overnight. You will not being hearing that argument from the left anymore, which, again, may wind up a gift for Romney. This is something he hasn’t been able to overcome in a decade of campaigning for the job – now, the left may be tripping over themselves to overcome it for him, and throw that baby out with the bathwater. Watch as, in a week or two, the Romney ticket is transformed into True Believing Crusaders and you never again hear the phrase “I just don’t know what he stands for and don’t trust him because of that”. A neat trick, and the left will do all the work for him.

So, in talking through all that, I have to say I like the selection. I think it makes him marginally less likely to be elected than before, but it also makes the party a lot stronger, and the election a lot more interesting. Of course, where we go when he loses is a scary proposition – does it turn out to be a clarifying rallying campaign for the GOP ala Goldwater, or a “run for the hills” proposition that frightens GOP candidate from every again running on fiscal reform or going anywhere near entitlements? And, does Romney have the balls to stand tall next to the claim he just potentially just staked as the true reform candidate, or does he immediately start undercutting himself and soft-selling and backpedaling? Stay tuned.

4 Comments »

  1. Just to say the same thing twice, an email I just sent to a few blogs I correspond with (Sullivan, TPM):

    Hey guys,

    As everyone picks apart the Ryan selection, there is a very interesting element of it that I think may be missed – really, the most germane thing about it.

    Romney’s central flaw as a candidate has, from day one, been the idea that he is the Say Anything candidate. Democrats have long cast him as a flip-flopping opportunist, Republicans have long distrusted him for not seeming to have any fidelity to any ideology. The #1 thing Romney has had to face in his nearly ten years of campaigning for the Presidency is the simple comment: “I have no idea what he stands for and I just don’t trust/can’t get behind a candidate like that.” Heck, that’s the only thing virtually EVERYONE agrees on about him. Do a tally of your blog’s own word count on the matter over the years. Reams and reams expounding that theme.

    And now, virtually overnight, that character flaw may have just been entirely defined away. Tally your word count over the next few months of posts that make the case “Romney’s campaign is based on an incredible fidelity to the core of conservatism!” Watch as it winds up being LIBERALS who do all that heavy lifting, spending the next several weeks “pounding” Romney as being a True Believer, running ad after ad and dispatching talking point after talking point to the effect of “THESE GUYS REALLY MEAN WHAT THEY SAY!”

    And suddenly, we’ll all wake up in October and Romney is the committed reform candidate who stands by a clearly articulated vision of government’s role in America with precisely nobody questioning whether he believes it or would govern based on it if elected. Poof, the central knock against and fatal flaw of Romney may have just evaporated.

    It may be a few years before we look back and marvel – and it may wind up being that this VP selection goes down as one of the most impactful in modern history in terms of redefining a candidate and totally changing the way that candidate is viewed. That’s not to say it makes him more likely to win, but I strongly suspect, probably only in retrospect, it’ll look like a pretty incredible turning point. And all Romney himself has to do is basically stand still and his opponents do all that work for him, as the left and Obama’s partisan moderate supporters fall all over themselves to paint the Romney ticket as the national iteration of Scott Walker or Chris Christie. To the left this will seem self-evidently fatal to his campaign, but they might want to be careful what they wish for. Overnight, Romney may have just gotten everybody in America to trip over themselves shouting from the rooftops that the Romney campaign is a ticket that truly believes in something and has a clear vision for America.

    A neat trick, and one that will probably be lost on most people for now.

    The more I think on this, the more I’m thinking this is a pretty canny selection.

    Comment by Brad — 8/11/2012 @ 3:43 pm

  2. I’d like to say that I’m shocked that the Washington media is able to trip over themselves in their rush to write stories about the committed conservative ideology of Paul Ryan, a guy who voted for Medicare Part D and TARP and really doesn’t seem to have remembered anything he read in Ayn Rand until Obama got elected …

    But I’ve been working in politics too long to be surprised by the pundits anymore.

    More importantly.

    When Romney is defeated this fall (can anyone argue that he’s not the underdog) the leading frontrunners for the GOP in 2016 will be Paul Ryan and Rand Paul.

    I can’t wait, that’s going to be worth watching.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 8/11/2012 @ 6:54 pm

  3. I must say, I dig the pick. It’s a ballsy move and pivots the dialogue toward the fiscal side of the spectrum. So far I really haven’t been drawn into this particular political season very strongly and and have pretty much been planning a Gary Johnson vote in November. Ryan might have just pulled me into the Romney fold.

    And FD is right. Assuming Romney loses, 2016 is going to be a riot.

    Comment by Cameron — 8/12/2012 @ 12:43 am

  4. Weirdly I didn’t want to say that out loud for some reason, but the Ryan pick makes me more likely to potentially change my mind at the list minute and vote Republican this year too.

    Too many disqualifiers for me for that to probably happen, but it’s certainly more likely today than it was a week ago, and I can’t say that’d have been true with literally any other short list pick.

    Comment by Brad — 8/12/2012 @ 3:37 pm

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