Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee says that his internal polling corresponds with the polls that show a trend toward President Barack Obama. It also says his hold on the base of his party, at least the excitement quotient, needs enhancing.
A vice presidential candidate may be worth a point or two in the polls, but is it enough to move Wisconsin from blue to red?
Romney's selection also made clear the race would be a contrast in ideologies. Much will be made of the Ryan budget, as will his attempt to forge Ayn Rand objectivism into a practical political ideology.
But it is not a proactive choice.
When a candidate has secured the base, they are free to select a vice presidential candidate who brings added value even if it risks the base's ire, as John Kennedy did with the selection of Senate Majority Leader from Texas, Lyndon Johnson. Though liberalism for good or ill is historically associated with Kennedy and Johnson it was not so in 1960.
As Robert Caro articulates in his latest Johnson biography, The Passage of Power, Johnson was known more for being a conservative southern senator who exemplified a Machiavellian use of power on Capitol Hill than any liberal pedigree.
When rumors began to surface that Johnson was Kennedy's choice for vice president at the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles it required back and forth negotiations by Kennedy surrogates to quell liberal distrust of the selection.
But the selection of Johnson was probably the last time a vice presidential candidate helped carry a state. The margin of Kennedy's victory over Richard Nixon (50.5 percent-48.5 percent) can be attributed to Johnson.
But Romney is not in that situation. With two weeks before the Republican National Convention convenes he is still trying to prove he's one of them (the base), at least ostensibly. It is hard to see how the addition of Ryan to the ticket changes that supposition. Tapping Ryan will only momentarily suppress demands that Romney release more tax returns.
I understand why Romney made the selection of Ryan; I'm less so why Ryan accepted. Ryan is considered a rising star within conservative circles. In the past few weeks, conservative pundits, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications openly advocated for Ryan's selection. But it is only a net plus for Ryan if Romney wins.
Beyond the convention few will be discussing the vice presidential candidates from either party unless they commit a serious gaffe.
Moreover, the selection of Ryan does not directly translate his being the same person that made his name as Chair of the House Budget Committee. Ryan must adapt to the Romney campaign, not the reverse. And one does not reach 270 electoral votes based on the vice presidential candidate.
If Romney should lose, the Ryan name will be added to those of Lodge, Miller, Muskie, Shriver, Dole, Mondale, Ferraro, Bentsen, Quayle, Kemp, Lieberman, Edwards, and Palin. These are the names of every vice presidential nominee who lost since 1960 -- not much of a political career after they lost, at least not at the presidential level.
It is a reactionary choice that makes more sense for Romney than it does for Ryan.