As a constituent of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisc.), I regretfully offer up my congressman to the country. Residing in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District affords more than 700,000 southeastern Wisconsin citizens the privilege of being represented by Ryan. Those who vote against him every two years may disagree and others, even supporters, may claim it is Ryan’s privilege to represent us, a statement the congressman himself would likely support based on his humble and workmanlike attitude toward his elected duties. But now that Ryan finds himself in the running-mate sweepstakes, those who count ourselves his loyal constituents must think of the greater good. And Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s best choice.
That isn’t to say others are not well qualified. South Carolina Governor Nikki Hailey and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, for instance, are worthy of a GOP running mate short-list, but many promote them for the wrong reasons. They suggest the ticket needs diversity to draw votes; diversity of gender and/or ethnicity and/or geography, at least in terms of a state with lots of electoral votes. How about just counting on the electorate to vote for the most qualified candidate, delivering the most compelling message with plans and a résumé to back them up?
History and exit polls tell us voters choose our nation’s leader with minimal consideration of the running mate. But the choice has consequences. In 2008, the mainstream media and late night comedians waged a jihad against Sarah Palin, while virtually every significant gaffe uttered by Joe Biden was ignored. A Romney-Ryan ticket drastically diminishes that possibility. Ryan’s presence on the ticket would invite instead a serious examination of policy differences—exactly what Republicans should want and what most agree the incumbent does not.
If a campaign centered around policy alternatives is what Romney wants, then he should choose a running mate based on ideas and the ability to communicate the policy vision Republicans are putting forth as salvation for the country versus the cliff dive into a dry economic quarry assured by President Obama’s free-spending, never-ending deficits. The only reason not to select Ryan or a Ryanesque running mate is if the Romney camp does not trust the electorate to vote for the most qualified team with the right message at the right time and a plan to back it up. Romney should not be swayed by consultants who believe that voters are shallow dimwits, who cast ballots based on the “look” or “feel” of a candidate. Phooey! As scientific proof this is not the case, we have New Jersey governor Chris Christie and thousands of other elected officials around the country who run for office based on their ideas, message, ability, sincerity, and commitment—and win!
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan created a budget that was passed in his chamber and which Romney promptly and enthusiastically embraced. It balances the wildly out of control federal budget in a generation, no simple feat. It also expands choices in how retirement savings and health care for seniors, the poor, and under or uninsured are administered, ushering in market solutions to shore-up the unsustainable status quo, and introducing reforms that have bipartisan appeal to fix Medicare’s insolvency. Ryan’s budget was vetted in congressional hearings, under public scrutiny in the light of day. The contrast with Obama’s preference for unelected, presidentially appointed czars and administrative decision making behind closed doors could not be clearer.
Romney may not choose Ryan, but his running mate choice criteria are clear. One path signals a distrust of voters and a running mate selected for their focus group appeal. The aftermath of this selection will resemble the shock young parents experience when they mistakenly take their kids to the animal shelter, only to arrive home two hours later with a puppy that was amazingly appealing to the children but quickly proves a chore to take care of. A second path shows Romney’s trust in voters, wherein he knows they are paying attention, that substance in fact does matter, and that they are ready for a grown-up conversation.
Imagine a conversation about the future of America's unaffordable entitlement programs, facilitated in coming months by Romney and Ryan based on what we’ve already heard from them and their shared vision about the direction of our nation. This is the fight Ryan has been asking to have, if not begging for, ever since his elevation to chairman of the budget committee. For his part, Romney seems to understand the American people are ready for this debate, a case Ryan has been consistently and quietly making for the last few years from his mostly rural district in a purple swing state which may mirror the national outcome when the nation chooses a president in November.
Ryan can be part of the spearhead from the inside as a vice presidential running mate, or a supporting actor from the outside in his current role. But Ryan is already one of the GOP’s best, brightest, and most articulate. Why not elevate him to first string to aid Romney in dismantling the stimulus fantasy thrust upon the American people these last three years? What better pairing than an executive with both vast public and private sector successes, who skillfully articulates the value of the private sector and government’s proper role, and a Midwest congressional star, respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Not to mention, the only one of 537 members of the legislative and executive branch to pass not one, but two budgets in three years?
As much as I and many others would dislike losing lose Paul Ryan as our congressman, it seems to me the nation is best served if Ryan agrees to become Mitt Romney’s running mate. Now, all that is necessary is for Mitt Romney to take us up on our offer. Take our congressman, please.
Royce K. DeBow is a public affairs advisor and political strategist.