Like most armchair pundits, I've been thinking about Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. It appears to do one thing well: mollify the GOP's conservative base. But I don't think it moves many votes from President Obama to Romney.
Position-wise, Ryan is as conservative as they come. He wants to change Medicare to a voucher-based program; he favors defunding NPR and Planned Parenthood; he opposes all abortion and favors a "personhood" amendment defining life as beginning at conception; he would privatize Social Security; and his "Ryan budget" would eliminate taxes on capital gains, giving the wealthiest Americans a huge tax break. Indeed, as The Washington Post has pointed out, Ryan's tax plan would have reduced Romney's tax rate to less than 1 percent, based on his released 2010 tax forms.
No wonder Mitt likes this guy. But I don't think "Reduce the 1 percent's taxes to 1 percent!" will play very well as a campaign slogan.
Romney has said that he thinks it should be a requirement that any presidential candidate be in the business world for at least three years, to better understand the "real world." By that measure, Ryan falls very short. Aside from his stint at McDonald's in high school, Ryan has spent his entire adult life on a government payroll, first as a political aide, then as a congressman.
If you look at the recent national polling, Obama is consistently ahead of Romney in the popular vote by five to seven points. Ryan may change that math somewhat by increasing the GOP margin in the red states. That won't help. Every Electoral College polling map I can find shows Obama with a more than 60-vote lead. To win, Romney will have to recapture the pivotal swing states that Obama won in 2008: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Florida. He trails in all of them, some by wide margins. I don't think Ryan helps him in those states, and, by most reports, the news of Ryan's selection is not playing well with the huge senior vote in Florida.
Election Day is less than three months away. The conventions are a couple weeks out, followed by the debates, a zillion dollars worth of political ads, and untold twists and turns. History tells us that the vice presidential candidates are a sideshow, a diversion, capable of hurting the main candidate if they commit a gaffe, but not much else. I suspect it will be the same this time around. Game on.