Mitt Romney, the cautious candidate, wary of being specific, and counting on the bad economy to defeat President Obama – forget all that! The Romney who picked Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate is an entirely different person. He’s prepared to take the fight to Obama on the biggest bundle of issues – spending, debt, the deficit, taxes, entitlements, and the reversing of America’s accelerating decline under Obama. Specifics? There will be plenty.
Romney the fighter? Anyone who has read about the 1948 presidential campaign has noticed a likeness between Romney and Tom Dewey, the Republican candidate against President Truman. Dewey was anything but a fighter. His campaign had no purpose other than winning. He figured Truman’s unpopularity would provide for that.
It didn’t work in 1948. Nor has Romney’s message that the economy is in terrible shape and he’s a businessman who can deal with it – few specifics, no special plan, just a man with an experience. In 2012, that’s not a winning strategy.
Romney understands that. Otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen Ryan, whose budget is the plan Romney lacks. Sure, Democrats will attack it furiously, especially its reform of Medicare. But where’s their plan? Obama doesn’t have one; instead, he pretends the country isn’t facing a fiscal and economic crisis.
So, first and foremost, what the selection of Ryan tells us about Romney is that he’s not passive. He’s not Dewey without the mustache. Ryan is hardly a cautious choice of a running mate. He’s the boldest. Now Romney must actively promote and defend the Ryan plan. As of today, it’s the Romney plan.
Second, Romney showed that, like a smart businessman, he knows his shortcomings. For all his attacks on Obama’s economic policies, Romney has failed to create a sense of urgency about the country’s faltering economic situation. And without a national fear of an impending catastrophe, he can’t defeat Obama.
Romney’s solution is to “get someone who can,” notes Washington consultant David Smick, a friend of Ryan. No one in America is better than Ryan in spelling out, with figures and facts, the crisis America faces.
Third, Romney turns out to be a political heavyweight with a smaller than usual ego. Ryan is bound to steal more of the limelight than normal for a vice presidential candidate. He is the leading policy thinker in the Republican party. His budget, which all but a handful of congressional Republicans have voted for, is now the campaign’s platform.
Fourth, by picking Ryan, Romney turns out to be his own chief strategist. He’s ready to adopt a campaign scheme that some, if not most, of his advisers would surely not have preferred. Nor was Ryan their first choice.
Fifth, Romney now wants to wage an exciting campaign – a tutorial. That’s an important change of mind on his part. From what we’ve seen of his campaign pre-Ryan, this was the farthest thing from his mind.
Stirring America to believe drastic action is required to avert a calamity won’t be easy. The crisis is still largely an abstraction. But Ryan can make it real in voters’ minds. And that alone makes his selection by Romney a very smart one.