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Politico’s Tuesday morning headline read, “GOP pros fret over Ryan,” depicting anonymous GOP operatives expressing concern over Paul Ryan.
In a move that apparently wasn’t meant to be sarcastic, Politico also carried a companion piece entitled, “[Bill] Kristol: ‘GOP pros’ often wrong.”
There’s the pot calling the kettle black, but this is more like the captain of the Titanic lambasting the designer of the I-35W Bridge for carelessness.
The Weekly Standard editor who memorably expected the Iraq war to last two months and said, “I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime” shouldn’t be saying anything about foolish predictions.
But this much can be said of Kristol: he more or less correctly predicted the last two GOP vice presidential candidates. He predicted McCain would pick Sarah Palin and he was one of the loudest boosters for a Ryan VP candidacy. This doesn’t validate him as a reliable pundit, however. Rather, it speaks to the state of the GOP.
Neither Palin nor Ryan were picks made from a position of strength. In good political times the nominee can make a safe pick, one that follows the Hippocratic Oath: do no harm. It’s why Obama could pick Joe Biden in 2008. With Republicans so unpopular, any Democrat would be in good shape. That allowed Obama to shore up unease about his inexperience by taking a veteran of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He didn’t have to make a “game-changer” because he didn’t need to change the game.
But these last two GOP VPs were chosen from weakness bordering on desperation. McCain needed to do something bold, but it’s not obvious Romney had to.
Days later I’m still pinching myself to see whether I didn’t dream this. Unlike many other conservatives, I’m not doing this because it’s too good to be true. I just didn’t think Romney was dumb enough to select such a polarizing VP in a contested race. What does it say when the stock image of empty-suit pragmatism actually does something bold?
This, of course, makes no difference whether I would vote for Romney and I’m guessing it doesn’t really make much difference for conservatives either. There was no serious chance that large amounts of conservatives were going to sit out the election. It’s just that conservatives are now excited.
That Romney is adopting the strategy of rallying the base suggests that his internal polling is showing that Obama’s class warfare tactics are working, Romney is not gaining independents, and his best hope is to awaken the few conservatives that might have sat out the election.
There is good reason for GOP operatives to be fretting about the Ryan pick. It’s not made if the ship isn’t already sinking.