Nothing bold, visionary, or adventurous here: the knee-jerk right winger in spades.
Whether you responded with shock, surprise or delight to his V.P. pick, Mitt Romney delivered no bombshell with Paul Ryan. Au contraire. The briefest survey confirms “going hard right V.P.” typifies the modern era for the Gruesome Old Party. That Romney the Null and Void would pick an extreme partisan to shore up his skeptical base was inevitable: lock up the sheeple who trust super-rich Mitt even less than they did Dole, Dubya or that old guy enamored with the Palin.
That doesn’t mean Ryan is a smart, election-winning pick (still anathema to moderates), just the least compromised ideologue eager to join the wobbly Mitt ship. Plus, Ryan would be positioned to pick up the pieces for 2016. One current thesis, that the extreme right, business cartel is prepping Ryan as favorite for the incumbent-less 2016, depends on a long-shot assumption: that another four years of hard times doesn’t block Ryan primary wins, considering the failed like-minded clones this year (Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum). Aligned to the Koch Bros., Ryan won’t lack for funds but more four years of gridlock may make severe Ryan austerity untenable.
Let’s debunk other momentary flashes: Ryan is less about transient polling or Romney desperation (too early), nor is this some weird, double-reversal because “power brokers” favor Obama (for Romney, winning is everything, until the dire end). Nor is Romney keen for “big, bold ideas” and many predict his ticket sticks doggedly to vacuous, bromide-coated blarney (until that flops). Finally, Ryan’s leverage to overcome Obama’s Wisconsin lead looks dubious, at best.
Drive the base turnout
So, Romney settled on a superficially controversial pick (though knee-jerk compared to Palin) because of this most uncontroversial tactic: GOP moderates go hard right with V.P.’s to lock up the (white, evangelical, older) base. Making this election into one pitting base vs. base looks like Romney’s best ploy, unless circumstances shift. Make campaigning foul and dirty enough, perhaps the 10% of the low-information, undecideds in 10 critical states stay home.
What else does Romney-Ryan duo have to pitch? Not pre-emptive wars against new phantom enemies, more pricey anti-terrorism, repairing “broken government” (unless we get GOP dictatorship), not budget-deficit restraint or fairer taxation (in a pig’s eye), and certainly no government job creation stimulus (sacrilegious). Smug Republicans refuse to pitch anything real, other than Obama must go.
After Bob Dole in ’96 picked Jack Kemp, better liked by the GOP base, party wannabes stayed the course, dragging in far more conservative, more ideological running mates. Though Dubya appealed to born-agains, his gruesome rightward lurch started by acquiescing to Cheney, a radical, neo-con ideologue. Like Cheney, the Palin offset the “moderate” McCain, salving the looming Tea Party insurgency. Ryan follows this ingrained tradition, letting the top guy stay moderate while the second fiddle headlocks Tea Party bottom-feeders.
Plus, being the most formidable, Etch-a-Sketch, flip-flopper in centuries, Romney especially needs energy from a fanatic who appears to believe in something. That Ryan is a preposterous phony — hardly visionary, intellectual, or “serious” — well, campaigns resolve cognitive dissonance. Ryan’s macho image will delight the right, for his rhetoric brooks no compromise with socialist lefties or mooching constituencies. In an all-out war, Romney found himself a rabid hitman on both economics and social issues: end abortion or gay rights; welfare is thieving by chiselers; government is bad enough without payola to unwashed Democrats.
Unzipping the new Gipper?
Despite Ann Romney’s lollapalooza-gaffe — let’s all release Mitt’s stiffness by “unzipping” him — Ryan will hardly “let the real Mitt Romney out.” Nor will the Ryan grim reaper (Catholicism spiked with Calvinist tinges) bring out Ann’s fantasy, “how funny, engaging, and witty Mitt is.” In fact, Ryan reinforces in spades “the other (darker) side of Mitt,” the executioner assuming a not very nice God who inflicts suffering on mankind (well, the less elect). Thus, government assistance only contradicts higher orders, which pushes unfettered capitalism as the only solution to earthly challenges (food, housing, clothes), if not its torments (poverty, disease).
Of course, Ryan will feed the laughable side of Mitt, too, the endless gaffe-machine. Right off, Romney the witty jester introduced Ryan as the “next president.” Perhaps that’s key to the “unzipped” Romney: keep him so untethered from reality he’ll ignore Ryan is the most conservative V.P. nominee since 1900 (per Nate Silver’s shrewd reckoning). Yes, Ryan boasts a more conservative voting record than Cheney, Dan Quayle, or Jack Kemp — on par with Palin’s roguery.
Perhaps some underestimate the Ryan downside. True, he’s brought far less energy than Palin but less mortification, too. Equivalent in lying and shamming to Palin, Ryan is more media savvy, smoother than the rough-hewn Tundra Barbee, and won’t keep stepping in his own manure. But he’s also better known as an enemy to the jobless, suffering middle-class, with abysmal support for his radical budget and his unpopular House.
Obama now owns the middle
Let’s sum up by invoking Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart: as James Downie rightly argues, Ryan “is not a “courageous’ choice” for vice president . . . he is a risky pick . . . [who] “isn’t the most natural choice” to be Romney’s running mate. And after reading the coverage all weekend and this morning, the youthful, telegenic and ballsy Ryan is overshadowing the older, telegenic and hollow top of the ticket.” Such observations fit the Koch Bros.’ “initiation of a newcomer” model and full-fledged, 2016 extremism. But that’s hardly Romney’s quest, to win now, and this “ballsy” V.P. pick could shadow Romney’s dullness.
I anticipate the Obama campaign puts its all into keeping up the morale of battered centrist voters so that this won’t be a strident base vs. base donnybrook. In a battle over the undecided middle, Ryan hugely strengthens the appeal of the right-leaning centrist Obama. The incumbent has spared no expense, and considerable political capital on the left, to cover his ass on militarism, national defense, terrorism, and the dreadful extension of a security state. In this year, sadly, that looks golden to win over the under-informed, engaged only with headlines, ad buys, and sound bites.