Okay, things just got real.
With his selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan to join him on the Republican ticket as his nominee for vice president, Mitt Romney has given both the conservative right and the liberal left a renewed reason to turn out to the polls. What this pick most clearly demonstrates to me is the deficit the former Massachusetts governor continues to hold with the GOP's base, who've long lionized Ryan -- a self-professed Ayn Rand aficionado who rose to prominence on the back of his "Path to Prosperity" budget plan that euphemistically re-defines "prosperity" as more tax cuts for the wealthiest, arriving there by demolishing cherished safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
The uphill climb Romney's always faced, even as the presumptive Republican nominee practically from the moment his '08 bid ended, is the perception that he's sort of the George Hamilton of presidential contenders, running because, well, why not. Sure, he doesn't really stand for anything, but he's got some accomplishments under his belt, and he looks vaguely president-y. This is a perception that's been largely self-inflicted thanks to his practiced ability to float wherever the winds of political expediency take him ("I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was." -- seriously, he actually said that), even if that means freely caroming to the opposite side of "convictions" he himself held and voiced not too long ago.
The problem is that Romney's been boxed in by the peculiar eugenics the GOP has been practicing for the last few years, purging moderates from its ranks and demonizing as socialism longtime Republican positions such as the private health insurance mandate. That mandate, of course, was implemented by Romney himself during his time as Massachusetts governor, leading to a very successful health care program -- "Romneycare" -- that's provided coverage to the overwhelming majority of MA citizens, serves as Romney's crowning executive achievement, and which he has to run as far away from as possible because of how it became the template for President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
When a right wing firestorm erupted earlier this week after a Romney aide invoked Romneycare as *gasp* a reason to vote for the governor, with far right figures like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh erupting into histrionics, and blogger Erick Erickson declaring this the moment Romney effectively lost the election, the already restrictive corridor Romney maneuvered himself into by outflanking the Bachmann-Santorum-Perry-Gingrich clown car during the primaries got even narrower still. Suddenly, the only option to again cement his bona fides with wary conservatives was to select their savior. And that's how we got to where we are now.
Of course, like the dimensional breach at the end of Ghostbusters, that particular door swings both ways. Although Romney has been meticulously un-meticulous on the trail, trafficking in base-pleasing vagaries on the stump even as he studiously avoids any concrete details about what he plans to do once in office, the Democrats in general, and the Obama campaign in particular, are no doubt equally elated to begin their weekend with this bit of news. The unpopular Ryan budget -- which passed with large majorities in the Republican-held house both times it's been offered up -- gives them a readymade bogeyman to launch spitballs at from now until November 6.
In a May 2011 post entitled "The Paul Ryan Poison Pill," I noted how the Dems successfully leveraged the Ryan budget against the Republican nominee in a congressional election, and pointed to that as evidence of the "ideological travails afflicting the modern day GOP as its far right moves even farther to the right." With Ryan now the vice presidential nominee of record, those travails have manifested all the way to the top of the ticket. Conservatives have gotten exactly what they wanted, and I'd guess many liberals feel the same. Perhaps unintentionally, Mitt Romney has brought into very stark relief the two antithetical policies of governance this election hinges on. I, for one, am glad to have that conversation.