In joining Romney, will Paul Ryan get his 'clear choice' campaign? (+video)
Back in February, long before he got the vice presidential nod, Rep. Paul Ryan urged Mitt Romney to run an 'affirmative' campaign, laying out how he differs from Obama. Picking Ryan may signal Romney's intent to do just that.
In selecting Paul Ryan for the GOP ticket, Mitt Romney appears to agree with one of the Wisconsin congressman's long-standing beliefs: If you aim for sweeping changes, you must run a campaign that clearly states your case to the American people.
Back in February, for example, Representative Ryan recounted the story of listening to President George W. Bush, who had just been reelected, discuss plans for his second term. It had been a bitter campaign, one that Mr. Bush had won with a focus on national security issues.
Ryan recalled that he was shocked to hear Bush discuss privatizing Social Security and taking on tax reform.Â âThatâs the first time I heard of that,â the Wisconsin Republican told reporters at a February Monitor breakfast, a bewildered look across his face.
âAnd I was [saying], âYeah!â â he said, pumping his fist with the spine-tingling excitement that only he can muster about tax reform. âBut it went nowhere.â
The lesson, according to Ryan? A campaign must articulate to voters the big changes it envisions making. That, of course, can be a risky move, especially when big changes involve political TNT like Medicare. But the new vice presidential hopeful nonetheless says he believes it best to be a proponent of laying out the good, the bad, and the ugly.
âWe owe the country a very clear choice. The gridlock is as bad as its ever been. We need the American people to break it,â Ryan said back in February. âAnd what we owe them is that if we donât like the direction the president has gone, and we donât, we owe them an alternative.â
Reports indicate that Ryan and Mr. Romney are two wonky, data-driven peas in a presidential campaign pod. Romney once referred to Ryan, who is the same age as Romneyâs oldest son, Tagg, as his âsixth son.âÂ
But long before Ryan joined the ticket, he and his fellow Cheese Head, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, offered this one significant challenge to Team Romney: Whereâs your vision?Â
âWe simply canât try to win this thing by default, by running against the bad news or the things that have contributed to the presidentâs unpopularity,â Ryan said back in February. âWe owe the country more than that. We owe them an alternative, and if we win an affirming election like that, we have the moral authority and obligation to act on it.â
Both Governor Walker and Ryan praised Romney for making preliminary steps toward a bold vision. But Walker's assessment, made in June at a Monitor breakfast with reporters, was that Romney still hadnât broken through.Â
âI donât know that voters are there yet with Governor Romney,â Walker said. âIt doesnât mean he hasnât talked about it. It doesnât mean he hasnât thought about it. But I think heâs got to have a simple message of not only why we need to replace the current occupant in the White House, but also why he would be better.â
The fundamental difference between Paul Ryan and GOP governors (or former governors) Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Bob McDonnell of Virginia or senators such as Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is simple: Ryan has actually outlined a budget plan.
Romney, of course, has an economic plan of his own. He could have done more to distill it (59 points? really?) and picked any of those other candidates to try to gain an advantage that is electoral (Senator Portman in Ohio, Governor McDonnell in Virginia) or demographic (Senator Rubio with Hispanics, Senator Ayotte with women).
But Ryanâs plan is different from Romneyâs. The House of Representatives has approved it, and it has been through the ringer of being scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Itâs closer to law of the land than a campaign PowerPoint presentation.Â
Deride it, say it avoids tough challenges, or insist that it robs the poor to pay the rich, but at least itâs in legislative language. It could be picked up and turned into law within weeks.
Moreover, Ryan has been selling his plan and his principles for fixing Americaâs taxing and spending for two years. Whether or not Americans know Ryan specifically â and many people interviewed in Norfolk, Va., this weekend did not â they do know broadly about his plan.Â As Ryan put it in his first speech as vice presidential nominee on Saturday, âthe commitment Mitt Romney and I make to you is this: We won't duck the tough issues â we will lead.â
By picking Ryan, Romney is working to shift the conversation from where it is (e.g., sideshows such as which campaignâs "super PAC" ads are more vile) toward one about debt, deficits, and Americaâs financial future. In short, heâs giving Ryanâs call for an "affirmative" campaign â a clear choice between visions â a shot.Â
That doesn't guarantee those are the topics that will consume the campaign between August and Election Day.Â
But given the response to the Ryan pick, both sides appear to be spoiling for a fight on debt, deficits, and fiscal management. If those related topics do become the focus, Election 2012 in fact could give Washington direction toward solving the nationâs immediate fiscal nightmare.Â
(In January, remember, $600 billion in higher taxes and lower government spending from expiring tax provisions and new spending cuts kick in, with the threat of throwing the economy back into recession.)
Winning this election with a real debate over these issues doesnât give one party license to set about âconquering the other partyâ in the next presidency and session of Congress, as Ryan noted back in February.Â
But absent rigorous debate about looming fiscal issues, Ryan warned, âyou win the wrong kind of victory.â