A trending topic on Twitter this weekend has been a plea for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to select either Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin or Senator Marco Rubio from Florida as his running mate with the corresponding hashtags “#giveusryan” and “#giveusrubio.”
The smart money remains on Romney selecting either Ohio Senator Rob Portman or former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, but the speculation about a candidate like Ryan is based purely on political celebrity.
A frequent guest on television talk shows, Ryan really jumped to political stardom when the Wisconsin representative became chairman of the House Budget Committee and was criticized in person by President Obama over his budget plan which intends to reduce the deficit by making incremental cuts to Medicare. Ryan’s appeal flourishes in an era where Republicans have adopted a stronger rhetorical line against welfare spending, but it also presupposes that there is a mass, long-term political constituency for Medicare reform.
But voters won’t be able to get excited for Paul Ryan for the exact same reason they aren’t able to get excited for Mitt Romney. They like the idea of a budget guru taking care of the economy just as they like the idea of a financial consultant taking care of the economy.
Romney and Ryan each have their niche appeal, but it’s difficult to generate enthusiasm for venture capitalism and Medicare reform alone. And needless to say, having Ryan on the ticket would be a gift to Obama as Ryan’s polarizing budget plan would relieve some pressure from the bad economy and generate enthusiasm among liberals lackadaisical about Obama’s first term.
But this isn’t about why Paul Ryan is a bad choice for vice president. It’s about how many conservative voters act like the Republican Party is working for them when it’s the other way around.
Undoubtedly the calls for Ryan for VP are rooted in the belief that Romney needs to shake up the energy for the ticket. But this is looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Conservatives should know by now that Romney isn’t going to give them anything.
In 2007 and 2008 Romney presented himself as a conservative and was the choice of the conservative intelligentsia to stop John McCain. Come 2011 and 2012, Romney, who hasn’t held office since 2007 and whose record hasn’t changed, was suddenly the “establishment” candidate and conservatives were supporting any candidate from Herman Cain to Rick Santorum to avoid Romney. His electability largely built up by conservatives in 2008, the 2012 nomination should have been a cakewalk. So anyone thinking Romney has anything except utter contempt for conservatives ought to have his head examined.
So why should Romney award the number two spot on the GOP ticket to a celebrity of the conservative movement?
This entire process suggests that conservatives are prisoners in their own party. So convinced are Republicans that this is a make-or-break election, they are willing to look past not only the similarities between Romney and George W. Bush, but the similarities between Romney and Obama. By casting the election in such grave terms, conservatives have made it very clear they wouldn’t withhold support from Romney. So why does it matter to them who Romney selects?
Simply put, Romney doesn’t have to select a running mate to placate conservatives’ wishes. He knows he has their support. What Romney is considering in selecting a VP is how he can keep the ticket balanced without alienating potential undecideds and independents. As much as conservatives might like Ryan, he is not a well-liked national figure and would likely damage the electability of the ticket.
The Ryan game is just that– a game.
There is no serious fear that the GOP’s right wing will abandon Romney because he doesn’t pick a vice president who is “conservative enough” or “energizing enough.” They have stated that their goal is partisan: defeating the Democratic president.
Therefore, conservatives will have no one to blame but themselves when a pragmatic presidential candidate they helped create makes a pragmatic choice for vice president and loses none of his support.