Early Saturday morning, The Associated Press, Reuters, NBC News, and Huffington Post all began reporting that Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick had been confirmed by Republican sources and would be announced at a scheduled event at 9am Saturday.
Though many commentators are calling it a bold pick and a breath of fresh air, the move may signal the Romney campaign’s desperation to energize Republican voters ahead of the Republican nominating convention and the general election later this Fall. As IVN’s Carl Wicklander wrote in June:
“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.”
Picking Paul Ryan certainly changes the entire dynamics of this race as well, and not necessarily in Mitt Romney’s favor. Instead of going with the safer bet and making the race a referendum on President Obama’s performance as president, Romney’s campaign has chosen to put Paul Ryan’s budget plan front and center in the national discussion. He’s banking on Ryan’s reputation in the Republican Party as something of a celebrity policy “wonk” in Congress who has the mathematical and rhetorical skills to out-debate Democrats and prove that limited government is better for the struggling US economy.
But like Mitt Romney, whose inconsistency, even insincerity, on the issues was epitomized by the Etch a Sketch comment his spokesman and top adviser made on live television earlier this year, Paul Ryan’s limited government rhetoric appears at odds with his big government voting record during the Bush Administration.
According to the Wisconsin Republican Liberty Caucus, the Wisconsin congressman actually voted with the Bush Administration’s agenda of unprecedented federal expansion 94% of the time, and it may surprise his fiscally conservative fans to know that Paul Ryan’s voting record includes votes for the TARP bailouts, the auto bailouts, the massive Bush Medicare expansion, the unprecedented federal intrusion into public education via No Child Left Behind, the 2008 stimulus package, and the $192B 2009 stimulus package.
As the general election campaign heats up and Paul Ryan is vetted by members of his party, those of rival parties, and Independent voters, his number one asset to Mitt Romney’s campaign– his status as poster boy for limited government and unwavering, even radical, fiscal conservatism– may prove hollow. It shouldn’t be long before Democratic operatives put together an ad featuring something Paul Ryan said while asking his House colleagues to vote for the politically toxic TARP bill on the House floor:
“Madame Speaker, this bill offends my principles. But I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles.”
The statement is oddly reminiscent of one George W. Bush made regarding the bailouts:
“I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”
No doubt, as the November election approaches, Paul Ryan and his record will be held under a microscope like never before, and he will have some tough questions to answer. With his reputation for fiscal conservatism, questions about his TARP and stimulus votes are almost certain to be asked during interviews and any vice presidential debates. By then, Mitt Romney’s campaign and members of the Republican Party will miss the earlier days of the campaign when they were only dogged by questions of consistency for one of the candidates on their ticket.