Ryan has the potential to make Romney a better candidate. Anyone who has watched the two men campaign together has seen the chemistry that exists between them. With Ryan on the stage next to him, Romney is more animated and relaxed and seemingly comfortable in having Ryan add firepower and heft to his message about the economy and the deficit.
Up to now, Romney has run a campaign that has been criticized for being too cautious and constrained. His strategy has been grounded in his and his advisers’ belief that the economic record of the past four years leaves Obama more than vulnerable. But many Republicans have challenged the Romney campaign to offer a bolder platform for the economy.
Among them was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a tough recall election in June by forcefully defending controversial budget and economic policies that triggered months of protests and a succession of recall elections. After winning the recall, Walker said his victory was proof that voters will reward leaders to make bold decisions and stick to their convictions.
Ryan is among those who have urged Romney to adopt a similar campaign strategy. “We can’t just win by default, by beating up on Obama,” he told me a few months ago when I asked him what it would take for Republicans to win the White House. Of Romney, he said, “He’s got to go to the country with what I call the choice of two futures. Not just vague platitudes but [to say] this is the path the president’s taking us down and this is where I want to take us and here’s how I want to get there.”
Ryan already has tangled with Obama and the White House. After Ryan issued his first budget in 2011, Obama savaged it, with Ryan in the audience. The president said the adoption of such a plan would lead to an America that would be fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history. Last spring, he described the Ryan plan as “thinly veiled social Darwinism” and a “radical vision” that is “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility.”
Romney had other good choices among those on his short list. Both Ohio Gov. Rob Portman and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, two seasoned politicians, would have added something helpful to the GOP ticket, though neither seemed to excite the party. Each believed through much of the process that Romney would pick the other.
That Romney turned to Ryan in the end says much about his competitiveness and his willingness to take risks. Risk-taking was always part of Romney’s approach to business, but that has not been the case so much in this campaign. Picking Ryan will be interpreted inside the GOP and beyond as evidence that Romney believed he needed to shake up the campaign as he looks to his convention, the debates and what will be an intense fall campaign.
The Republicans have been hungering for a presidential campaign that would draw bright lines with the president. They want a nominee who will challenge Obama to defend what they see as a lack of leadership not just on the economy but also on the fiscal problems that they believe threaten the country’s future. With Ryan at his side, Romney has now decided to run that kind of campaign, with all the benefits and costs that come with it.