Four men — Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, and Bobby Jindal — are likely on Mitt Romney’s short list of vice-presidential candidates, according to Erin McPike at Real Clear Politics. With respect to Ryan, she corroborates Robert Costa’s report on NRO back in June. McPike sees two or three others (Kelly Ayotte, Bob McDonnell, and perhaps Marco Rubio) as dark horses. On the crucial criterion of “readiness for office,” however, she writes that Ryan “falls short.” That could hardly be further from the truth.
Before Romney secured the GOP nomination, Ryan was the de facto leader of the Republican party and has been throughout most of the Obama presidency. Ryan has been the party’s No. 1 ideas guy for a long time. He has served in Congress for 13 years, compared with Barack Obama’s three years in the Senate and zero in the House when the 2008 primaries began. He’s the chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. (Senator Obama held no leadership position.) His budgets have arguably been the boldest and most forceful shows of political leadership from the GOP since the Reagan administration. In the process of defending them, he has been nationally vetted. And while he may, being a congressman, have foreign-policy experience that’s limited, he still has more than any of the current or former governors on Romney’s list.
Moreover, as the renowned political science and history professor Paul Rahe writes, Ryan “has demonstrated . . . that he has an executive temperament, and he has managed to unite his party behind a program. He is certainly not afraid of taking responsibility.”
Rahe adds, provocatively:
I could reel off the names of various Congressmen — stretching from Carl Albert to Nancy Pelosi — who have played a prominent role in my lifetime. None of them could be called a statesman. They were competent, clever partisan politicians. Ryan is something different. He has attained a stature that no Congressman in my lifetime has achieved. When I cast my mind back in the past in search of comparable figures, I can come up with only two — James Madison in the First Federal Congress, and Henry Clay, when he was Speaker of the House. There were no doubt others, but the list is not long, and I doubt whether there would be anyone on it who served in the last hundred years.
For these and other reasons, Ryan, among all of those who are on or near Romney’s short list, would have had the best chance of winning the GOP nomination and being elected president in 2012 in his own right.
To be sure, each of Romney’s finalists or near-finalists has merit. But Ryan would benefit Romney’s candidacy in unique ways. Here are just a few:
Picking Ryan would excite and unite the party.
By putting Ryan on the ticket, Romney would add the party’s single best spokesman on three huge issues: Obamacare, the budget, and the debt. Imagine Ryan debating Joe Biden — or Hillary Clinton.
By adding such a heavyweight to the ticket, Romney would convey to the electorate how high the stakes are in this historic election.
The pick would also show strength. By making it, Romney would (rightly) indicate that he’s not afraid of being overshadowed by anyone.
The 23-year age difference between Romney and Ryan makes them seem more like natural complements than like rivals, and by all accounts the chemistry between them is excellent. Moreover, younger voters are increasingly disillusioned with Obama, and putting the 42-year-old Ryan on the ticket would encourage many of them to give Romney a second look.
For Romney’s purposes, Ryan’s home state is perhaps even more strategic than Portman’s. Polls bob up and down, but in the end, Ohio leans Republican, and Romney should be able to win it, whereas Wisconsin is on Obama’s side of the ledger and, aside perhaps from Nevada, is the most vulnerable of the Democratic-leaning states. It’s quite plausible that Ryan could make the difference in Wisconsin — and hence in the election. If Romney wins Wisconsin, then Obama would almost certainly have to win Florida or Ohio or else sweep Virginia and Colorado.
What’s more, Ryan went to college in Ohio, and Wisconsin borders both Iowa and Michigan. In fact, given his widespread appeal, it’s quite feasible that Ryan could give Romney a bigger boost throughout the Midwest than any other running mate — even in the Buckeye State.
Finally, and perhaps most important, picking Ryan would clearly connect Romney to the post-Bush era of Republicans. It would be awfully hard to talk constantly about Bush-Cheney when running against Romney-Ryan.
— Jeffrey H. Anderson was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the Department of Health and Human Services during President George W. Bush’s second term.