As Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gets ready to vacation with his family in Colorado for the week, there has been much chatter about how Ryan may be at the very top of the short list for Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick. Establishment Republican publications such as the Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Weekly Standard have touted his potential candidacy.
If Romney picks Ryan, conservatives — especially those concerned about fiscal issues — will be energized, which will be critical in a so-called “base election” in which less than 5 percent of the electorate is truly undecided.
In addition, should Romney pick Ryan, it would mean Romney would be doubling down on Romney’s central rationale for his candidacy — that he is someone who can fix America’s economic mess and ensure the country does not slide down the path that European nations like Greece and Spain have.
Ryan’s central argument has been that without fiscal reforms and entitlement reforms, the debt will balloon to the point where there will not be any sustainable entitlement programs left. The reforms in his budget, which passed the House, are needed, Ryan has always argued, in order to save the social safety net that has been one of America’s hallmarks.
Ryan has his critics. Some of these critics are jealous of his potential rise or are associated with other candidates whose futures could be threatened the brighter Ryan’s star becomes on the national stage.
Critics of Ryan will say Democrats will tie his selection — and his budget — around Romney’s neck like an albatross, and this will hurt Republicans in states like Florida. Others will say Ryan will be the face of a Congress the public loathes. The truth is, regardless of whether Ryan is selected, Obama and Democrats are going to run against a “Republican” Congress, even though Democrats control the Senate. They’ll wield Ryan’s budgetas a weapon to falsely scare seniors into thinking that Ryan’s budget would take their Medicare away (it would not, for the vouchers Ryan speaks of do not apply to current Medicare recipients).
Others say Ryan would be more effective in the House, but Ryan has already laid out his roadmap and the House has already passed his budget. The roadmap is there, it just needs to be implemented — and his selection could energize conservatives so that Republicans can win races down ballot to send the very reinforcements to Congress to enact Ryan’s reforms.
Others cite Ryan’s votes for programs such as TARP, the GM auto bailout, and No Child Left Behind. These are anathema to those in the Tea Party, and the Tea Party rose up in revolt against politicians who enacted these programs. In defense of of his votes for these programs, Ryan has contended that with respect to the GM bailout, he was reflecting the desires of those he represents in his District. Ryan has also made the argument that at the time of the TARP vote, he was led to believe that had he not voted to save the financial system, the country would have spiraled into a depression, lead to a rapid expansion of big government programs and intrusions.
Others says Ryan is not a natural politician on the stump and his reserved, bookish and wonkish nature makes him come across as a bit distant instead of as an evangelist for his budget proposals. Further, a running mate has traditionally been employed to attack the other ticket, and how well Ryan can go on the attack remains a lingering question. These are some of the reasons Ryan most likely decided against throwing his hat in the ring for the presidential nomination.
But Ryan’s reservedness could actually benefit the ticket as well.
Ryan can reinforce everything positive about Romney — someone who is not flashy but has a mastery of details that he will employ to fix the economy and reduce the country’s debt.
In many ways, a Romney-Ryan ticket could be what the Clinton-Gore ticket was (Gore reinforced Clinton’s image as a young and moderate Southern Democrat) except Ryan and Romney would get a long a lot better than Gore and Clinton did.
But the greatest strength Ryan would add to the ticket is he would ensure Romney runs a bold campaign that presents the country with two very different visions of America and her future. And he has a proven track record of winning over people based on his vision in the Midwest, a region where Obama is vulnerable but whose voters are not yet sold on Romney.
When Ryan’s mentor Jack Kemp, for whom he worked and who influenced him to run for Congress, passed away in 2009, Ryan made a prescient speech on the House floor. He noted that the lowering of marginal tax rates and the supply-side economics Reagan enacted led to unprecedented economic prosperity, but that cycle was now coming to an end.
“America has just completed such a cycle, dominated by the Republican Party from 1980 until last year,” Ryan said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009. “Ronald Reagan was the presiding figure of this era. But the great ‘idea formulator’ of that cycle-the political and intellectual entrepreneur whose ideas became the basis of its thinking and policies-was our friend Jack Kemp.”
Ryan said a return to such prosperity will require different solutions more applicable to the current economic climate.
“We need to return to the path of economic growth and self-government, but the policies we need are different,” Ryan said. “The future of America at the ‘tipping point’ looks a lot like the social welfare states of Europe, where entrepreneurial risk-taking and job creation hardly exist.”
Ryan said “the next generation of supply-siders confronts a new problem: We must find a way to simplify the tax code and spread the tax base. All producers, both capital and labor, should bear a low but fair share of the tax burden.”
He then said: “If supply-siders don’t lead the fight to limit spending and to keep taxes low and broad-based, we will find more people becoming supplicants seeking government benefits … Fewer entrepreneurs will be taking risks for growth. As the private sector joins in ‘partnerships’ with bureaucrats, democratic capitalism will gradually become ‘crony capitalism.’ Freedom cannot outlast that transformation.”
This is the what the 2012 election is about, except Ryan said these words in 2009.
Having Ryan on the ticket would allow him to articulate this message, make Romney a better messenger, and enable him to have a national platform on which he can defend his budget. When his budget was being debated, there was a lack of efficient surrogates who could defend Ryan’s plan. Since Democrats are going to run against it anyways, there is an argument for having Ryan defend it himself instead of having ineffective surrogates doing so on the national stage.
Ryan can also appeal to blue collar workers in the Midwest, like he has always done to win over Democrats in his district, and to suburban voters in places like Northern Virginia. But he can also appeal — like Kemp — to those who are trying to climb up the economic ladder, which is something Romney has trouble doing.
For many conservatives, Jack Kemp was the rightful heir to Reagan. And it can be said that Ryan is the rightful heir to the late Kemp.
Ryan, though, is neither a Reagan or a Kemp. Ryan lacks Reagan’s political skills and Kemp’s fire. Ryan even conceded as much himself.
“I wish I could say I had Jack’s natural charisma … his infectious enthusiasm … his quarterback’s skill at leading people … his gift for turning opponents into friends and sometimes even allies,” Ryan said while speaking at the Kemp Foundation. “These were personal qualities to envy, but they probably don’t describe this Wisconsinite.”
Although Ryan is not stylistically similar to Kemp, he can potentially be like Kemp in how he influences the next president in confronting the debt, which is to this generation what Communism was to Reagan’s.
Reagan was influenced by Kemp’s economic ideas, enacted them, and this allowed America to defeat the Soviet Union — when they could not keep up with America’s economic and military expansion — without firing a shot.
In much the same way, Ryan can help the potential President Romney take the country back on the course of fiscal solvency like Kemp helped Reagan defeat the Soviets.
Ryan — at this time — may not have the political skills or chops to be a frontman. But he may be the perfect wingman at a time when America faces a harrowing fiscal future.