Paul Ryan for VP: a storm in a tea (party) cup

August 15, 2012

Mitt Romney’s appointment of Tea Party darling, congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate has provided a welcome boost for the commentariat who were finding the war of attrition between the Obama and Romney camps increasingly dull. Whatever the general opinion on the merits of the choice, the firm consensus is that we’re in for a lot more fun now that we have, essentially, Sarah Palin with brains on the GOP ticket. Even if the evidence gives little indication that the name of the man below the name of the man-who-would-be-president will have any real impact whatsoever.

If the hacks are to be believed, excitement will be confined to the Republican base and will quickly turn to dismay as Romney finds himself increasingly shackled to Ryan’s extreme views (the ever-authoritative Nate Silver on the NYT FiveThirtyEight blog has Ryan as the most conservative GOP congressman to have been picked for VP since at least 1900: closest to Michele Bachmann in political hue). And a POLITICO survey of Republican insiders suggests they’ve basically thrown in the towel, taking a stance best summed up as ‘I love Paul Ryan but…’.

Over at openDemocracy, Magnus Nome echoes many of the same criticisms of the decision, but suggests we may be giving Romney too little credit:

Something here that should worry Obama: Romney has plenty of experience taking calculated risks, is obsessed with thorough research and has become very rich based on these skills. Wise or not, it’s not a Hail Mary pass like McCain’s.

So let’s take Mr Nome up on this invitation to look, as we are led to suppose Mitt may’ve done, at the evidence about Ryan’s likely impact. Three nuggets in particular caught my eye:

1. Voters don’t yet know how extreme Ryan’s views are. Whilst he has relatively high levels of name recognition for a VP candidate, polls suggest few know about his ‘famous’ budget reform proposals or asked-for cuts to Medicare. So as Molly Ball writes in The Atlantic, this means Democrats and Republicans have the chance to fight to define him in the minds of voters (a battle that’s already well underway, naturally).

2. Initial reaction to Ryan as VP is less positive than normal. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted last Sunday shows that whilst more Republicans are excited about Ryan than were about Palin, the choice has received a more negative reaction from the electorate as a whole than any VP-pick since Dan Quayle in 1988. So Ryan, and the Romney campaign as a whole, have more ground to make up.

3. It’s all about the top of the ticket. When all is said and done, this will probably be a storm in the Tea Party’s cup. As Associated Press writer Josh Lederman points out in this piece in the Washington Post, a string of nominated vice presidents including Al Gore, Dick Cheney and John Edwards seemed like game-changers at the time they were announced, but almost certainly didn’t have a big impact on the outcome. And indeed the Gallup poll bears this out: just as in every election back to 1988, roughly two-thirds of people say the man or woman on the bottom of the ticket will have no effect on their vote.

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