08/13/2012 06:57 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

Cheney/Bush All Over Again

Mitt Romney's pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate is not "bold" at all, it's an act of sheer desperation. The Romney campaign knows that the president has already been successful, particularly in the battleground states, in defining Romney as a fat cat who doesn't care a lick about the average person and a tax cheat who deducts his dressage horse as a business expense and won't even show you his tax returns because they must be absolutely fatal. Conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and many more have shown great willingness to jump ship and criticize Romney at the least provocation, reinforcing the narrative to come for 2016: "We never trusted or liked him to begin with, so that's why we didn't go all in. We need to nominate a true conservative this time."

Because humor is often best at getting to the heart of a matter, my favorite synopsis of the Romney public record has been offered by Andy Borowitz, who recently gave us this fake news "clarification" by porn star Jenna Jameson of her endorsement of Romney: "When asked what initially appealed to her about Mr. Romney, Ms. Jameson said: 'He's the only person who's assumed more positions than I have.'"

So the Ryan pick is first of all more reminiscent of McCain's choice of Sarah Palin than one might think at a glance. It's a "the-base-doesn't-like-or-trust-you-McCain/Romney-so-you'd-better-shore-up-your-conservative-bona-fides-before-they-all-stay-home" pick. But there that resemblance ends. No one really thinks that, if they'd been elected, the anti-intellectual Palin would have been running McCain's show. Romney/Ryan is a governing hornet's nest for Republicans way more in the image of Bush/Cheney than of McCain/Palin. And this country really doesn't want to live through Bush/Cheney, or more correctly Cheney/Bush, again.

The meta-message here is that Paul Ryan's the guy who's going to keep Mitt honest and "severely conservative." Ryan is an ideologue who, when he recites chapter and verse, it's as likely to be of The Fountainhead as of the Bible. Ask the Catholic bishops who have already called his budget "immoral." As the new enforcer of conservative principles for the ever-wobbly Romney who's willing to say or do anything just to get elected, Ryan immediately accrues an enormous amount of Cheney-like power. The details are just a little different -- Cheney was the experienced guy who could compensate for the lack of intellect of the friendly frat-boy frontman Bush. Romney's not so much dumb as unreliable with no core values, and Ryan is the conservatives' insurance policy, a policy wonk who will make sure Romney never lapses into some kind of strange Romneycare, pro-choice, or something-other-than-austerity coma again.

But the overall result would be the same. If, heaven forbid, these two were elected, these dynamics dictate that Ryan would actually be running the country just as Cheney did. Well, maybe Ryan and Grover Norquist. But it sure as heck wouldn't be Mitt, whose one false move would result in a conservative backlash beyond our imagining and a certain Tea Party primary challenge in 2016. You ready for that?