Paul Ryan and Condoleezza Rice Show Us a GOP That Can Win

(Mark Peterson for GQ on Instagram)

By Marc Ambinder, GQ

In professional wrestling, when a deserving and accomplished wrestler is overshadowed by others (or he lets them win), he's described as putting them over. Mitt Romney's ultimate function in the 2012 election might be to put over the younger, more adept crop of candidates for 2016, including the stars of Wednesday night, former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Vice Presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan.

Here is what Rice managed to accomplish: she gave what amounted to a George W. Bush compassionate conservative speech to a MUCH more conservative audience of delegates. She spoke out on immigration. On education (echoes of Bush again. She called disparities the "civil rights issue of our time." She mentioned Mitt Romney twice, and spent most of the time her recounting her own extraordinary biography. She made the Republican Party look good. She got the loudest applause of this convention so far, even though she is (gasp) pro-choice.

She didn't connect her life to Mitt Romney's, and she did not use her foreign policy credentials to make an argument against Barack Obama's policies. But that was, perhaps, because she had two motives: she's setting herself up for a future presidential run, and she's trying to burnish the image of her party. Implicitly, she's saying: this party is big enough for me. It's my party. It's not just a bunch of white dudes. (Ron Brownstein's aphorism comes to mind: Romney needs 61 percent of the white vote, and he needs whites to make up 74 percent of the electorate in order to win.

Then came Paul Ryan.

The job of the vice presidential candidate is two-fold: he has to make the presidential nominee look good. And he has to credibly tattoo the problems of America onto the opposition party's nominee. Ryan's speech aced the test.

The congressman from Wisconsin spoke a little but about himself, but mostly spoke about how Obama's tenure has been a series of unfulfilled promises and dashed hopes. From the general to the specific: Obamacare, debt, deficits, taxes, business regulations. The knock on Romney is that he cares about the rich. So Ryan's speech was all about how Obama is hurting those who are struggling. He did so in a way that gets at the trigger points that Democrats tend to use to rally their own base: The stimulus, he said, "was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst."

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