Mitt Romney has proved everyone wrong. The common wisdom was the presumptive Republican nominee for president was going to make a safe pick, going with an old Washington hand from an important swing state for vice president. By tapping 42-year-old Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, Mr. Romney shows that he is taking the fight into blue states deep in the heart of territory Barack Obama won four years ago. This is the strategy of a winner.
Choosing Mr. Ryan, the wonky chairman of the House Budget Committee, telegraphs one message about the autumn campaign loud and clear to President Obama: It is about the economy stupid, and you won't be able to hide from the issues. Liberals are already attacking the Ryan budget – which actually would have gotten federal books back in order – as being bad for the poor. However, this demagoguery comes from a Democratic Party that hasn't approved a budget in the Senate in 1,200 days and has added a heart-stopping $5 trillion to the national debt since the last budget resolution was passed in April 2009. Democrats are in a precarious political position with Mr. Romney's No. 2 because when they demonize Mr. Ryan's penny-wise plan, it gives Republicans an opening to refocus the debate on the president's out-of-control spending and Majority Leader Harry Reid's lack of fiscal leadership in the Senate.
News of Mr. Romney's veep decision has conservative activists reenergized for the fight ahead. “This focuses the November elections on Obama's economic failures and the fact that Romney and Ryan have a reform plan that's actually written down,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Washington Times. “This choice is scintillating – one step above brilliant.” The tough Mr. Norquist, famous for keeping candidates' feet to the fire with his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, isn't one to hang fire when Republicans are doing the wrong thing. His endorsement signals that Mr. Ryan gets a wild thumbs up from the conservative base of the Republican Party.
The reaction from Congress was enthusiastic too. “The greatest threat to our future is our debt, and no one knows more about the federal government's fiscal challenges than Paul Ryan,” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, told The Washington Times. “I'm thrilled. It's a great choice by Gov. Romney. While many say the vice-presidential choice normally adds little to the ticket, I believe Paul will be a big asset to the campaign, and a great partner to Gov. Romney in governing.” Mr. Sessions is the foremost leader on Capitol Hill who has beat the bushes explaining to the country that Obamacare's $17 trillion in longterm unfunded obligations explodes the total unfunded liabilities of America's welfare state to more than $99.4 trillion over 75 years.
The cheesehead with the green eyeshade gets kudos from fiscal fighters in his own chamber as well. “Paul Ryan is a great pick. There is no one better at making the case for what needs to be done to put America back on the right path,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Washington Times. This is not feint praise as Mr. Jordan is known to give House leadership fits for his insistence that the party must not sacrifice principle for bipartisan dealmaking.
Mr. Ryan is a young, combative, articulate and ideologically solid policy expert. The strength of his candidacy already has Beltway chatter focusing on how mismatched Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would be in a veep debate, which has reignited speculation that Mr. Obama should dump Joe to run instead with his sharp Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. By going with a guy from the Badger State, Mr. Romney has made a move for Rust Belt voters in places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Mr. Ryan is a game-changer, so the ball is now in the president's court to try to match his challenger on points.
The veep-stakes predictions over the last month focused on Ohio and Florida, two places Mr. Romney undoubtedly needs to win to make it to the White House. No Republican in history has ever become president without the Buckeye State, and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman – who took 82 out of 88 counties in his Senate race two years ago – had risen above the pack and was seen as the frontrunner. Mr. Portman is a smart, respected and supremely talented public servant, but many operatives were worried he was too much like Mr. Romney, and that a Romney-Portman ticket looked too much like your grandfather's GOP: two reserved white guys graying around the temples. It will be hard to pin the stodgy label on the Romney-Ryan team with a Generation X running-mate.
Mr. Romney has passed the two major tests he has faced this year. He campaigned hard, debated well and outlasted an impressive field of Republican primary contenders to secure his party's nomination for president. Now he has unified and revitalized the GOP with his surprisingly bold choice of Mr. Ryan. With unemployment stuck at 8.3 percent and the economy going nowhere, Mr. Obama looks more like a loser every day. With less than three months before Election Day, Mr. Romney is gaining momentum.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times and coauthor of the book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).
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