THE BLOG
08/20/2012 06:09 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2012

The Paul Ryan Factor

Okay, so now we have a 2012 campaign.

The VP pick is an important symbol for where the pre-convention narrative is going for a candidate, especially a challenger. For Barack Obama in 2008, Joe Biden was chosen to connect with the alienated white, working class voters lost in the epic primary battle with Hillary Clinton. For George W. Bush in 2000 it was to calm the noise on his foreign policy naiveté with Dick Cheney.

The choice became an imperative for Mitt Romney, who has thus far conducted a excruciatingly safe run casting himself as an awkward figure, the length and breadth of which appears neither particularly bold in his ideology nor straightforward with his biography, and is certainly vague in his plans to lead should he be chosen come November.

As documented incessantly here for the past weeks and just about everywhere else, it is becoming increasingly evidentiary, even to those who support him, that Romney had better be about something other than standing as the anti-Obama if he wants to challenge this thing, which has slowly gotten away from him in recent weeks. Despite historically high unemployment numbers for a sitting president to be leading in national polls, and a sense that any incumbent anywhere, be they Republican or Democrat, is vulnerable these days, Romney's poll numbers have spun their wheels, and his occasional gaffs and the unshakable unfavorable responses to his personality, demeanor and overall presentation put the onus on his choice as running mate.

At age 42 and with a dozen years on Capitol Hill, enter Wisconsin congressman, Paul Ryan, a wonkish, staunchly conservative numbers-cruncher whose claim to fame is his wholly symbolic hard-line budget proposal that aims to radically reconstruct the level of control instilled in the federal government for nearly a century. What is known as the "Ryan Bill" is so outlandish to most lawmakers that the previous conservative stalwart in Congress, former speaker, Newt Gingrich has dubbed it "right-wing social engineering". But there is no mistaking that Ryan is a serious politician. Unlike the party's previous choice for vice president, Sarah Palin, who had trouble with the most rudimentary facts about governance or practically anything, Ryan is a champion of minutia.

However, like Palin, Ryan is a credentials pick. The aim in 2008 for GOP nominee, John McCain was to energize the base and put a dent into the "history-making" run of Barack Obama. Ryan represents the same audacious stroke, especially for a candidate whose modus operandi is bland mixed with a healthy dose of blander. Where Romney is a stuff-shirt with no foundation beyond the robotic ambition to seduce victory, Ryan is as right fiscally as can be mustered in Washington. His very name conjures grief on the left while also creating the unintended affect in allowing the president's re-election team to point directly at what it deems a radical draconian approach that reaches far beyond the incumbent's more measured proposals; if in fact the president or the Democrats can conjure one.

You see, it has been Ryan's plan, draconian, radical or genius, that has stood alone in firing the opening shot at what Republicans have used as a sledgehammer for three years; reducing spending and by consequence, the debt, thus reversing its party's wild spending spree of the century's first decade and rebuilding a new narrative upon the ashes of the now conveniently ignored Bush Administration. What makes Ryan's almost religious fervor to curtail spending bizarre is the fact that he voted for shitloads of unpaid-for nonsense when a Republican was in charge, including unfounded tax cuts, two wars, a massive ramp up of federal government security measures, and the disastrous Medicare Modernization Act.

Ryan's convenient hypocrisy aside, for months Romney has argued, "What not try it my way?" on the stump and in his ads, but no one, least of all Romney, has a clue what that way is, allowing the president to paint it as another run on Bush economics. Romney hopes he now has that alternative; the Ryan Plan, which is in effect becomes the Romney Plan.

Something that should not be ignored is Ryan's connection with his home state and its governor, Scott Walker, which has become the Right's clarion call to crush unions and slash budgets. This is the mojo Romney lacks; mainly because he is a wind-shifting moderate, whose record as governor of Massachusetts, his only public gig, makes anyone with a dog-eared copy of The Fountainhead wretch. Ryan, by comparison, sleeps with a crumpled photo of Ayn Rand under his pillow. Although, once again, when recently pressed by the Catholic League on his Randian worship (fueled as it is by rabid atheism) he tempered what he once stated as a life-affirming philosophy that inspired his embracing of fiscally conservative economics.

So what does the Ryan pick, maybe the boldest move in Romney's uneven to spectacularly mediocre campaign, say about the candidate to this point?

Firstly, he is worried about his base, which has failed to completely embrace him. This was clearly becoming a distraction again after he was eviscerated by conservative opponents during a nearly one-year primary roll-out, with recent flak over hardcore conservatives failure to coddle him and the deluge of criticism from blogs, radio geeks and even establishment pundits who initially pushed for him over the fringe candidates. For good or ill on the national level and with more moderate independents, Ryan is the poster boy for the Right's argument for less government, relaxed regulations, and the age-old trickle-down free ride for "job creators" to rescue a feeble economy.

Secondly, Ryan has a personality; combative, unapologetic and recklessly youthful; all the things Romney is not. Although careful not to give too detailed an answer to his no-compromise pitch to privatize Social Security and gut Medicare in the face of his atavistic cow-towing to a continued bloated military budget, Ryan is far more forthcoming about his rather unpopular measures to re-figure the Washington landscape than Romney would ever dare.

However, it is hard to see Ryan -- a work-machine whose love of the inner workings of legislation trumps his already serious-as-bone-cancer tone -- sitting around like Joe Biden whipping off the occasional eructation between ribbon cuttings. He's Al Gore meets Hillary Clinton meets the bastard son of Dick Cheney. He's hands-on, pal. Or at least that's what Mitt Romney wants you to believe. "Don't trust me? How 'bout this guy, then?"

The brass tax here, beyond rousing the base and designing an air of credibility to a walking haircut, is affecting the electoral map.

There are no signs that Wisconsin is in play for Republicans, unless the GOP hangs its hat on the recent recall failure of the Left to expunge Governor Walker from office after his marauding of state unions. It is a predominantly Democratic state that last voted Republican for president in 1984. Since Ryan is still young and has made his bones on the national level- - specifically in hated Washington -- it is unlikely he will be an embraceable figure to many independents there.

This is why Ohio Senator Rob Portman would have been the more strategic pick. While Ryan forces the Obama Campaign, which currently trails the money race by a significant margin, to spend treasure and time in Wisconsin, it pales in comparison to the ever-crucial state of Ohio. A razor thin but widening lead for Obama in a state Republicans need (no Republican has claimed the White House without carrying Ohio since Lincoln) would call for the Portman pick. To be blunt, Wisconsin is a gamble with Ryan, while Portman could have conceivably tipped the scale for Romney.

But Ryan makes the most sense for the ticket mainly because now the candidate hopes the campaign can shift to clashing ideologies and away from a personality contest, a game in which Romney would have trouble besting a lamppost.