After several days of analysis about Mitt Romney’s decision to name Republican demigod Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket, we’ve heard a lot about the presumptive nominee’s “bold,” “courageous,” and “risky” choice. Others have called the move “daring” or evidence that Romney is “going nuclear.”
They’re all referring, of course, to Romney’s gamble that picking Ryan will shift the election narrative from a debate about Obama’s performance to one focused on Ryan’s often controversial budget ideas. In one move, Romney—pick your cliché—changed the game, reset the debate and shook up the etch-a-sketch.
But they could just as easily be referring to the unusual move of a leader picking someone to be his No. 2 who outshines him in star wattage by several thousand degrees. Ryan is young, charismatic and extremely popular among his party’s base. His austere budgets have made him a Tea Party darling, drawing enthusiastic crowds to campaign stops. Mitt Romney may be running for president, but Paul Ryan is arguably the most influential current member of the Republican party.
It takes a certain kind of leader to be willing to make such a move. We’ve read the gamut of explanations for why Romney would be willing to select a running mate who might end up stealing the show—not only on the campaign trail but also, if they win, after the two reach the White House. Maybe Romney truly believes in Ryan’s policies and sees in him a bona fide complement to his campaign. Or maybe, to borrow a phrase, Romney wants to keep his friends close, and his young guns closer. Having Ryan in the yes-man job of vice president could prevent him from grabbing the spotlight from the House floor. Or perhaps Romney, like some believe John McCain did before him, was feeling nervous about how the campaign was going and chose to swallow his pride.
Who knows what the real explanation is. In the meantime, Romney will have to share a stage with a man who could very well upstage him at every turn. This may something about Romney’s leadership: Maybe he has enough humility to want to surround himself with the biggest thinkers, no matter if it bruises his ego.
Yet whatever the move says about Romney, what will be most interesting to watch is how he handles questions regarding his own ideas, and Ryan’s. How much will he publicly embrace Ryan’s policies, which have the potential to drive away independent swing-state voters? Will there be awkward moments on the campaign trail if enthusiastic crowds surround Ryan before they surround Romney? (The introduction of Ryan as the “next president of the United States” in Norfolk, Va., Saturday morning was already awkward enough.) How will he handle questions about what ideas he can claim to be his own?
Some of those moments are already happening. In his first joint interview with Ryan on “60 Minutes,” for instance, Romney was asked what he thought about people saying he was “making [this election] a referendum on Paul Ryan’s budget plan.” Romney’s reply was similar to a comment he’d made on the campaign trail earlier in the day: “Well I have my own budget plan, as you know, that I’ve put out,” he retorted. “And that’s the budget plan we’re going to run on.”
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