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Paul Ryan May Redefine the Phrase 'Game Changer'

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
Credit: Washington Post

The phrase “game changer” has been thrown around a lot in politics since the 2008 presidential election. Now the word has become standard in political vernacular. There may not be a person those two words apply to more than Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Mitt Romney was under no obligation to pick a favorite among the far right. Independent conservatives and Tea Party activists were already going to vote for him. However, they weren’t going to vote for his ticket as much as they were going to vote to defeat President Barack Obama.

Regardless, Romney could have picked whoever he wanted and many political analysts and pundits believed he was going to pick a safe choice. They believed he was going to pick someone who might be perceived as bland, but there was no threat of him or her going off the reservation. The odds-on favorites were political figures like Rob Portman (R-OH) or Tim Pawlenty (R-MN).

In 2008, there were a number of voting records set during the presidential race and, more impressively, during the nomination process. There was a significant amount of excitement among Democrats as the party knew they had a very good chance at taking the Oval Office. Many states saw a dramatic increase in voter participation.

The Democrats had an exciting race for the party’s nomination. For the first time in United States history the first viable female candidate and the first viable black candidate were not only in the race, but going head-to-head. History was going to be made regardless of the outcome, and people like to be a part of something that exciting.

The Democratic Party had voter excitement on their side. Republicans couldn’t garnish the same level of enthusiasm. Moderate Republicans don’t generate very much excitement and conservative Republicans and independent conservative voters couldn’t get the base rallied up for John McCain. Conservatives liked Sarah Palin, but she didn’t have the name recognition or reputation among far right activists as she does today.

In 2012, the GOP has an opportunity to do something that doesn’t happen very often. They have an opportunity to defeat an incumbent president. Americans are uncertain about the state of the economy, unemployment is at a stalemate, and Barack Obama doesn’t have anywhere near the excitement he had in 2008. Still, as the incumbent, he still has the statistical advantage.

The Republican Party knows they need an enthusiastically active base in November to get out the vote if they want to keep the House, take the majority in the Senate, and win the White House. Mitt Romney can’t get very many people excited. He is only marginally better than John McCain when it comes to that. His advisers have probably informed him of this, but there were people high on the short list for possible VP picks that could rally the base.

The announcement of Mitt Romney’s choice flooded social media almost instantly. Everyone was talking about Paul Ryan, and conservative activists were praising the decision. The enthusiasm levels spiked overnight. Suddenly, the presidential race has become a whole new ballgame.

Many conservatives tend to forget -- ignore rather -- Paul Ryan’s voting record in Congress during the Bush administration and focus more on his record during the Obama administration. After all, if we take an in-depth look at Ryan’s record it is just as inconsistent as the man who picked him for the VP nomination. Especially, if one is a fan of fiscal responsibility and limited government. This is, however, neither here nor there for many conservatives.

Paul Ryan is the man for far right grassroots activists and a celebrity in the Republican Party. Celebrity status in a party can be beneficial in a presidential race. After all, Barack Obama was a celebrity in the Democratic Party and he ran for president with a very limited record to support him. Ryan has a record and over the last few years it has been friendly to the Tea Party. He is also a representative from Wisconsin. The reason this is important to note is because he could help Romney take the state in November, which despite Scott Walker's recall victory, looks to favor Barack Obama at the moment.

If we are talking about “game changers” in the 2012 presidential election, Rep. Paul Ryan may be just that for the Republican Party. Tea Partiers and independent conservatives have their reason to vote for the GOP ticket now rather than just vote against the Obama/Biden ticket. It will be interesting to see how Ryan shapes the campaign and the race as a whole.

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