What the Ryan Selection Means

The selection of Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the Republican Vice Presidential choice of former Massachusetts Governor "Willard Mitt" Romney will have a major impact on the campaign and the election., perhaps as much as Senator John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008.

For one thing, the selection indicates that Romney is unsure of his conservative base even several months after he clinched the nomination. By succumbing to calls from the right for a solid conservative VP selection, Romney has surrendered the last pretense of moderation. Voters, especially independents, who hoped that Romney would, if elected, repeat his moderate governing methodology from Massachusetts now have a resounding answer: I am a complete captive of the ultra-Right."

The selection shifts the campaign in two ways. First, given Ryan's lack of foreign policy or national security experience, it may signal the end of Romney's attempt too challenge President Obama's national security accomplishments. After a less than brilliant foreign foray, Romney may have decided to dial back on this front. Another selection, say Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) would have sent a different signal.

More importantly, the Ryan choice undercuts the current Romney campaign strategy and strengthens the Obama narrative. Romney has concentrated on Obama's economic performance and avoided programmatic specifics. Now he is clearly tied to the Ryan budget and will have to discuss the Medicare voucher proposals and other Ryan positions. President Obama's strategy had been to cast the campaign as a choice between alternative futures. The full conservative bent of the GOP ticket and Ryan's commitment to reducing government programs for lower and middle-income groups plays into the Obama strategy. Ryan's budget also dulls the GOP deficit reduction attack as his budget does not reach surplus until 2040 and then only with preposterous assumptions. And the Ryan -- Romney commitment to only cutting programs and not increasing revenues, makes clear that they are more interested in cutting programs than cutting the deficit.

The Ryan selection is likely to motivate the conservative base and increase donations, much as the Palin selection did. But it is also likely to motivate the Democratic base that sees his Medicare and other proposals as an attempt to roll back Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs and even FDR's New Deal.

There may be an upside for the electorate weary of a plethora of negative ads and a dearth of specific proposals for the future. If the Romney -- Ryan ticket begins to put forth specifics on what tax expenditure loopholes will be closed to keep their tax plan from ballooning the deficit or what they would do to deal with the fiscal cliff, the Obama -- Biden ticket may be inclined to detail its positions more comprehensively. The result, for an optimist, might be that the campaign would turn into a real debate on what the country needs to do to face its near-term and long-term challenges.

If the result of Paul Ryan joining the GOP ticket is that the electorate will get a clear view of what the governing priorities and principles of each side will be and therefore give the winning ticket a semblance of a mandate, he will have served a very useful purpose regardless of the outcome.

If the campaigns' tone, tenor and content do not change, Ryan's selection will be remembered, if at all, as another step in the Republican Party's descent into the conservative bunker.