Today, in long-awaited news during an otherwise uninteresting summer, former Massachusetts Governor and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced his running mate for the 2012 presidential election: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).
Perhaps most famous for his controversial alternative budget plan, the putative Path to Prosperity, Ryan is a polarizing figure. His selection potentially offers energy and intellect in an otherwise bleak Romney campaign, but it also carries enormous risk that might ultimately sink Romney’s chances in November.
Ryan’s strengths among Republican circles are obvious: he satisfies the de-regulatory, anti-spending, and anti-tax philosophy of many severe conservatives, as evidenced by his support for the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, better known as the Financial Services Modernization Act, which partly repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 by invalidating provisions that mandated the separation of banking and investment institutions. Furthermore, his budget plan calls for the privatization of Social Security, the transformation of Medicare into a voucher program, and drastic cuts in discretionary spending that will, according to a recent New Yorker report, “affect every popular government program.”
But Ryan’s fiscal conservatism, though exciting for Republicans in the short-term, cannot be characterized as truly energizing in the short-term. Republican fiscal hawks were expected to flock to Romney even before the VP announcement. One wonders if Ryan’s presence on the ticket can garner more support, particularly among independents: last summer, majorities across many demographics and political orientations opposed Ryan’s budget. Similarly, Ryan’s advocated discretionary spending cuts can only hurt the country. Fellow PolicyMic pundit Darwin Long recently spoke to this dynamic, and the recent successes of Chicago reveal the benefits of smart government investments.
Ryan carries even more conspicuous baggage that might hurt both him and Romney come November. He will be hard-pressed to defend his Congressional tenure during the Bush Administration (2000-2008), during which he agreed with virtually every proposal issued from the White House, including Medicare Part D and the Iraq War. Not only are they remembered not-too-fondly by the public at large, they also belie Ryan’s choice image as a fiscally conservative crusader. He has no foreign policy experience – nor does his running mate – and, interestingly, is susceptible to an attack often used against Obama by the right: a lack of private sector experience.
Indeed, for all of his ambitious proposals and professed understanding of the complexities of the economy, Ryan has, if anything, less private sector experience than Obama – who, after all, found private-sector employment as a lawyer and law professor. Ryan, on the other hand, worked a series of entry-level jobs through high school and college before entering the policy-oriented world of Washington, D.C. His only true private sector experience was a brief stint of only a few months as a management consultant at his family’s construction business before launching a successful election the following year.
After the 2008 VP debacle that was Sarah Palin, it’s unsurprising that Romney capitulated to the establishment and selected a “safe” running mate, whose darling conservative proposals Romney can now effectively and legitimately assume. But according to a recent CNN poll, President Obama currently holds a 7-point lead over his challenger. Facing such difficult odds, it would have been more prudent for Romney to select Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who could have pulled support from the Sun Belt and Latinos, or General David Petraeus, the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who could have brought the military experience both tickets currently lack. Instead, the Republican ticket is sealed with two handsome, urban, wealthy white men, both with significant personal and professional flaws -- who will need to make an extraordinary case to the American people, if Republicans hope to control the White House next year.