8 Questions

Dan Balz on the Republican National Convention in Tampa

Question 2: What can Paul Ryan do to top Sarah Palin's 2008 convention speech?

Sarah Palin’s convention speech was a breakout moment that combined slashing attacks on Obama with trademark humor-about pit bulls, hockey moms and lipstick-that turned her into a political celebrity.

Well, Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin and her performance isn’t one he needs to top. She benefitted from low expectations. The expectations for Ryan, who has already made his mark on the Republican Party, will be far different. “Less gee whiz and more whiz kid,” said GOP strategist Terry Hold. “His goal,” said another Republican, “should be to be a better candidate than Palin, not give one better speech.”

So far he’s succeeding on that. His introduction hasn’t moved the polls in any significant way, but he’s helped to bring enthusiasm and energy to the ticket and he’s comfortable on the stump. But he’s brought some baggage with him in the form of his budget and Medicare plans. How he handles all that will be the lens through which his performance will be measured.

Like Romney, Ryan can do a lot of things with his speech. If he could sell his Medicare plan, that alone would a huge plus for Romney, but it’s doubtful one speech can do that. He can try to make a compelling case for entitlement reform. He can show himself as the party’s new Jack Kemp (for whom he once worked), an optimistic apostle for cutting spending, growth-oriented economics. Can he say, “eat your peas” with a smile?

In the end, however, Ryan’s speech shouldn’t really be about Ryan. As Democrat Tad Devine put it, “Ryan needs to understand that his job is to sell Romney, not himself. If he does that, he can help.”