Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his vice president almost preempted my Friday blog post about why "Paul Ryan Would Not be a Conservative Check on a Republican President" from his seat in the House of Representatives. Now, while Ryan will theoretically be vice president instead of a high-profile congressman, he won't won't be an influence on Romney in that role either, and for the same reason: he doesn't oppose Republican presidents.
As "A Closer Look at Rep. Paul Ryan's Voting Record" shows, the Wisconsin congressman in action is a little different from the congressman he plays on TV, with votes for No Child Left Behind, Medicare expansion, TARP, and stimulus packages.
As a congressman, Ryan has shown that he is a team player. According to a New Yorker profile:
"At the time, as a junior member with little clout, Ryan was a reliable Republican vote for policies that were key in causing enormous federal budget deficits: sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known as TARP. In all, five trillion dollars was added to the national debt. . . . Ryan told me recently that, as a fiscal conservative, he was 'miserable during the last majority' and is determined 'to do everything I can to make sure I don't feel that misery again.'"
Of course, that doesn't answer why Ryan voted for and defends TARP, auto bailouts, and stimulus packages while in the minority. While the conservative media might be convincing themselves that finally there is a clear choice between the presidential candidates, this is really not the case.
Over at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison nicely sums up precisely why Ryan cannot be trusted:
"[Ryan] was a bad fiscal conservative because he was a good partisan, but there was never a time before that when he demonstrated a commitment to fiscal responsibility in practice. Just like Santorum's weak 'team player' excuse for voting for legislation that supposedly contradicted his principles, Ryan's claim that his spending votes made him 'miserable' doesn't make things better. If he was so miserable, why did he vote for the bills? Because he has consistently put partisan loyalty ahead of fiscal responsibility. That's not a reason to give Ryan a pass on these votes. That's precisely the reason to hold those votes against him."
It might be rationalized that Ryan made compromising votes in the past as part of a long-term strategy to advance his agenda. In fact, his "team player" attitude may be the reason he was able to rise to Budget Committee chairmanship, but one might also think that at some point he would have stood up for his principles when it was inconvenient.
It also raises another question. If Ryan couldn't stand up to his president when he had a viable vote to cast, what is he going to do if President Romney wants to enact an agenda very similar to the one that made Ryan "miserable" under George W. Bush?
Ryan is starting to shape himself up as this generation's Newt Gingrich sans the personal life train wrecks: there is no reality to Ryan except the one on the screen right now. His widely-accepted intelligence precedes him and is probably the prima facie reason he can be accepted as a fiscal reformer today.
Starved for ideas after monumental defeats in 2006 and 2008, Republicans have adopted a pro forma agenda of cutting spending and Paul Ryan has told them what they like to hear so well that they are convinced he is one of them. However, it's inconspicuous how adding a referendum on Medicare reform helps a ticket already embattled by charges that it is a custodian of the wealthy. In this respect, Ryan rounds out the Romney ticket in the worst way.
The Ryan candidacy is a bone for the GOP base: Romney sees that his best opportunity for victory is rallying the base. To use a football analogy, it's not a Hail Mary, but it is a trick play. Masquerading itself as a bold move, the Ryan selection provides Romney with an out if they lose.
Should that happen Ryan won't necessarily be convicted in the court of public opinion in the same way as Sarah Palin was in 2008. Ryan is a member in good standing with the establishment in a way she never was and his budget plan may become radioactive, but he will still be alive.
And that's the point of any Machiavellian.