Selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate allows Mitt Romney to reframe the 2012 presidential race. The pick allows Romney to counter President Obama's framing about the Democratic future vs. a Republican past. The Obama 2012 theme, "Forward," is intended both to deflect criticism from Obama of America's 8 percent+ unemployment, arguing that Obama saved the economy in 2008 and is just now turning it around so we should go forward and not turn back, and to tie Romney's economic policies to traditional Republican ideas which, he will claim, caused the 2008 recession.
Had Romney picked former Bush OMB Director and current Senator Rob Portman or former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he would have reinforced that perception.
Picking Ryan helps shift the "Forward" narrative towards the Romney side. Picking Ryan as VP places the fiscal crisis America faces at the center of the campaign. In 2000, candidate Bush had five main domestic policy priorities. He engaged the debate on four of them. However, Bush quickly dropped the reformation of Social Security/entitlements in the face as opposition and in order to enact education and tax reform. Regardless of one's views of their merits, Ryan has broken new ground on the entitlement issues. Ryan is best known for producing the GOP House budget plan, which attempts to get a handle on America's long-term financial challenges by reforming entitlement programs.
This reality allows Romney to frame the election about Obama's last four years vs. the future. Despite areas of success, the president has not come close to achieving his predicted goals of lowering unemployment below 7 percent, and he has largely ignored his own fiscal commission's recommendations for curbing the deficit and debt.
Romney-Ryan will argue that Obama will leave an unsustainable and debilitating fiscal burden on America's "children and grandchildren" while providing inadequate economic and job growth to sustain family economic success.
In Bain Capital terms, picking Ryan is an acquisition rather than a product development strategy. Romney has been criticized for lacking a detailed or unique set of policy ideas. Many of his domestic policy proposals are quite similar to Bush-era policies. Perhaps the most prominent domestic policy innovation from Governor Romney was his Massachusetts health care plan -- he has left that on the election "cutting room floor." Rather than developing all his new policies internally, Romney has acquired his policy innovation through Ryan. Ryan's reputation as a deep thinker and his popularity with the Republican base come largely from his work on domestic policy innovation.
Ryan also looks the "forward" part. He and his young family provide a visual of the future -- the kind of family that will be "saddled with debt" unless entitlements are reformed. He represents a visual demographic that counters Obama's own attractive family.
Ryan is not perfect. He will make it easier for Obama to attack Romney in Florida and elsewhere for policies of concern to seniors. But to win, Romney needed to change the narrative and shake up the story. He needed to find his own framing of the choice Americans have in November. Rather than making the debate about Obama vs. "failed Bush-era policies," Romney can now seek to leap-frog the debate and reframe it as Obama's "past failures" vs. a future represented by people like Paul Ryan.
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