One cannot underestimate the value of a vice presidential nominee during election season. With a shrewd vice presidential pick, a candidate can effectively mask his or her flaws and fill crucial gaps in public opinion. And with the Republican nominee still eliciting a lukewarm response from his own base, his VP pick couldn’t be more important.
Mitt Romney with Rep. Ryan. Photo Courtesy: Christian Science Monitor
Paul Ryan has been in the spotlight long before his name was floated around in conjunction with Romney’s. Elected as a to the House at age 28, he represents conservative politics in every respect–from abortion to foreign policy, from the size of government to alternative energy. His consistent voting record helps mask that of Romney, often noted as contradictory and “flip-flopping” on the most black-and-white issues, like access to abortion. In addition to Ryan’s voting record, his image and rhetoric are those of a conservative with no doubts of his views. With these, he gives Romney the respect, and possibly the votes, of more hard-core conservatives. Representative Ryan also counters Romney’s image of a profit-driven businessman with his own resume: a lifetime of public service, whether working behind the scenes for others or holding public office himself. He is seen as a generally honest man who strives to better his country in ways he deems necessary. Another voting constituency Romney has had trouble with, the conservative base, appreciates these attributes, and will likely judge Romney in a more forgiving way with Ryan on the ticket next to him.
But one would be foolish to disregard the numerous faults of Mr. Ryan. It takes an electorally ignorant person to view Ryan’s plan to privatize social security as a plus; one of the most historically significant swing-states, Florida, also has the highest number of residents who are seniors. And in a country where 79% of voters believe that “social security has been good for the country” and 84% of seniors believe that calling social security “a failure” is inaccurate, this poses a major problem1. While Ryan’s image as a clear conservative is helpful in some respects, it sets Romney back in others. By choosing Ryan as his running mate, Romney has made a conscious decision to try to win over conservatives, rather than independents, who tend to have more liberal views on social issues especially2. Representative Ryan is unlikely to aid Romney in winning votes in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin because Wisconsin has historically voted for Democrats in presidential elections, and with the recent reawakening of the labor fight there, Ryan’s 7% rating by the AFL-CIO does not give him the working class support Romney desperately needs. Finally, on a superficial yet relevant note, Mr. Ryan’s Roman Catholic faith only widens the gap between Mormon Romney and evangelical voters.
Paul Ryan is a divisive character. In choosing him as his running mate, Romney has certainly isolated some voting blocs, while improving his image with typical conservative ones.
So while both sides claim this pick as a victory, one should keep an eye on the opinions of those who truly matter–the voters.