Commentary: Romney’s Choice

Michael Steele, Paul Ryan and Barack Obama

Commentary: Romney’s Choice

By picking Paul Ryan as the VP candidate, Mitt Romney is making the presidential race a choice between “status quo liberalism” and “reform conservatism.”

Published August 14, 2012

Mitt Romney’s vice presidential selection was on its face a very good one — solid, strong, a potential game changer. Certainly the media and pundits across the political spectrum felt there was only one way to describe Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Congressman and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to be his running mate: “Bold!” But I see this decision as less a bold choice, and certainly not a “maverick pick,” by Mitt Romney, but rather an appropriate one.

For months, Romney and his campaign were beset by pundits, establishment-types and wannabe prognosticators reading tea leaves or sifting through pig entrails all in an effort to divine who Romney would or should pick. From safe to out-of-the-box, names were all over the place; and no name wasn’t good enough to suggest (Kim Kardashian. Really?). But in the end Mitt knew what he wanted — he wanted it all! And he got it. In Paul Ryan the governor gets a little Rob Portman and Bobby Jindal (policy wonk), Tim Pawlenty (GOP grassroots, Sam’s Club Republicanism) and even Marco Rubio (Tea Party appeal without the Florida tan).

Just as significant is that Romney, by choosing Ryan, has clearly decided to reset the narrative in his race against President Obama. And here’s where all that boldness  the pundits have been talking about could turn out to be riskier than it needs to be.

For the past four months or so, the Romney campaign (and a few of his PAC friends) has argued, pushed and even distorted the facts to make the point that this election is and should be a referendum on the leadership, policies and overall direction of Obama. Sure the president was dealt a bad set of cards, the argument goes, but leadership — especially presidential leadership, is about what you do with the cards you are dealt. For Romney (and for many of us as well), the president just didn’t know how to play his hand and the country has suffered because of it. But in selecting Ryan, not only has Romney given the president a new set of cards, he’s slipped him a few aces to boot.

Starting now, this race is no longer a referendum on the Obama years but rather a choice between Obama’s “Status Quo Liberalism” and Romney’s “Reform Conservatism.” It appears the Romney–Ryan campaign is ready to make this argument and the Obama–Biden campaign can’t wait for it.

Weirder still, in an ironic political twist, both campaigns are happy with this pick (at least for the moment). Conservatives have largely had nothing but praise since the announcement and have rallied in ways some didn’t believe possible just two months ago. They love the idea that we could actually have an intellectual and philosophical debate about the role of Big Government in a Free Enterprise system. What excites them even more is knowing a budget hawk would be a heartbeat away from the oval office.

Similarly, liberal spirits have been lifted in ways that even Obama couldn’t seem to do in recent months as they pump their fists as well for a debate about expanding the role of government (a.k.a the “safety net”) in the face of Republican’s “shrink the government” proposals. They’re smiling like Cheshire cats because a budget hawk is a heartbeat away from Mitt Romney.

From the cheap seats it would seem that in addition to jobs and the economy Romney and Obama now want a broader debate about big ideas and even bigger policies. For that I am both excited and encouraged. We have wallowed way too long in the sewers of this campaign with distorted negative ads as the unemployment numbers remain unchanged or worse, creep back up, and more Americans become disillusioned with the idea that things will get better soon.

But a word of caution: I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to count on Ryan’s budget smarts and bookish charms to dissect Obama and Biden; nor will it be enough to castigate and deride Ryan and his plan (at least he has offered one) as a return to “trickle-down economics” and “ending [fill in the blank] as we know it.”

After all, this bipartisan excitement surrounding Paul Ryan’s selection reminds me of the Jeff Goldblum quote from the Lost World: Jurassic Park in which he responds to how excited everyone is to be at Jurassic Park: “Oooh! Ahhh! That’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for each week.

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Written by Michael Steele


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