Over at National Review Online, Robert Costa reported last week that Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan was officially being vetted for vice president. Less than two months away from the Republican National Convention in August, talk about the VP will be high.
Although a celebrity in the conservative movement, Ryan is a poor choice for Mitt Romney for several reasons.
First, picking Ryan would be a transparent act of political pandering to the right. Conservative commentators, seeing John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin in 2008 can't seem to remember that that move was unusual. McCain picked a firebrand conservative four years ago because he was slumping and desperate to change the dynamics of the race. If McCain had his first choice his VP would almost certainly have been Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, two socially liberal allies whose selection would have caused a shooting war on the convention floor. Romney, the pragmatic consultant, won't make the same type of move unless he too is desperate.
Second, the selection would be wasteful. The appeal Ryan brings to the GOP ticket is simple but short-sighted. Thinking Romney needs to pick a conservative star to shore up or enthuse the base is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. If the party base isn't apt to support him as an alternative to the current economy, Fast and Furious cover-ups, and the recently-upheld ObamaCare, then Romney has bigger problems than his vice president. Simply put, Romney won the nomination without conservatives and owes them nothing.
And Ryan's national reputation would surely bring Romney an unnecessary headache. While the Democratic ad depicting a Ryan look-a-like pushing an elderly woman off a cliff is over-the-top, it doesn't absolve the fact that Ryan is a polarizing figure, even among Republicans.
In a recent Public Policy poll taken of Iowa Republicans, more respondents were unsure about Ryan (48%) than held a favorable opinion (44%). This was worse than Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and even Chris Christie.
Ryan is clearly a lightning rod. In the special election in the twenty-sixth district of New York just thirteen months ago a reliably Republican district fell to the Democrats shortly after the GOP House voted on Ryan's controversial budget. At the risk of overrating a special election, Romney may turn a referendum on Obama into one on his own running mate. Instead of wasting the pick on a lightning rod, Romney will pick a VP who will accentuate the reasons why he should be trusted as president.
Although the establishment candidate, it's easy to forget Romney is not actually a creature of Washington. As such, he will likely select a Washington veteran to balance the ticket as fellow Governors Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did respectively with George H. W. Bush, Al Gore, and Dick Cheney.
It's true that Ryan has been in Washington for over a decade, but he was a backbencher until only recently when he became chairman of the House Budget Committee. He may be coming into his own in this role, but he is still a relative neophyte and his history shows that he is not a particularly independent thinker after all.
During the Bush years Ryan faithfully voted for Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the massive Pentagon budgets, TARP, and auto bailouts. Only in 2008 did he begin producing his now-annual "Roadmap." The conservatives currently infatuated with Ryan are only looking at the man they see today and not the one whose votes contributed to the landscape Obama "inherited."
Sources close to Ryan have said that the congressman sometimes voted against his conscience and sometimes voted reluctantly, but however one slices it, Ryan was a team player who supported the worst excesses of the Bush Administration. While he may potentially have a bright future ahead of him, Ryan doesn't have the experience, independence of mind, or possibly the backbone necessary to assume the presidency if circumstances dictated. He appears more a follower than a leader. If thrust into that position is there any doubt that Ryan, whose own foreign policy is cloudy and seemingly only informed by talking points, would be instantly overwhelmed by Romney's cabinet and advisers?
Mitt Romney stands a reasonable chance to unseat the incumbent. But he would do much to harm his chances by making an impetuous selection of a polarizing vice president.