Gerald Seib writes at the Wall Street Journal on how the race changed today with the pick of Rep. Paul Ryan to be Mitt Romney’s running mate:
With Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney is getting one of his party’s fastest-rising stars, and the heir to the late Jack Kemp’s brand of sunny and optimistic conservatism. He has added a dash of youth and opened a clear play for Mr. Ryan’s state of Wisconsin, which hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential race since the days of Ronald Reagan.
He also has likely put to rest, once and for all, the lingering doubts of his party’s conservative wing. Mr. Ryan simply isn’t the pick to make if you want to take the sharp edges off your economic message.
In picking Mr. Ryan, though, Mr. Romney has chosen, quite consciously, to take some risks:
He and his party will absorb regular attacks on Medicare for the duration of the campaign. The Ryan budget envisions the transition of Medicare, over time, into a premium-support plan in which the government helps to finance rather than provide health coverage for senior citizens. The pressure now is on Mr. Romney to declare whether he embraces that vision, something he hasn’t until now. Politically, the risk is that the Medicare debate erodes Mr. Romney’s advantage with seniors, who have been one of his strongest demographics. Given his problems with young voters and Hispanics, those older voters are mighty important to him.
One of the surprises of the election so far is that Mr. Romney has defied the conventional wisdom that said he would move to the center after clinching the GOP nomination. No chance to do that now.
The question will be how comfortably Mr. Romney—a man who spent the first part of his political career as a moderate and still has people guessing what he really believe on some subjects—can stand alongside a young leader who has no doubt about what he believes.
The ground upon which the campaign was being played has shifted significantly. The election will now be about something important — two very different visions for the future of America. Will it be Romney/Ryan’s belief in an expansive, opportunity-driven economy based on free-market principles and a smaller role for government? Or will it be Obama’s “investments” in the middle class, a culture of dependency, and diminished living standards?
It is by no means certain that voters will choose the Romney/Ryan vision. In truth, Obama’s vision offers more security — government-sponsored security with the price of admission a dependency culture that rips at the dignity of the individual. And there is no way forward without the infliction of pain on those who have already succumbed to the lure of what they believe to be a “free lunch.” Accepting more personal responsibility for one’s life will not be popular with a lot of voters.
Obama claims that the pain he will inflict will only be on the “rich,” but that’s nonsense. The “rich,” by and large, aren’t on the government dole. Obama is going to be forced to cut spending on programs benefiting the exact same people that Romney/Ryan will. He will do it and then take the savings and “invest” them in alternative energy, more bloated education funding, “infrastructure,” and a gaggle of other government programs whose spending is already out of control.
Romney is gambling that his vision of the future — and how to get there — will be seen as more realistic by the voter than Obama’s. By naming Ryan, he has hired the best salesman in the country who can close the deal on that vision with the voter.
High-risk, high-reward: that’s the only way to play it when the stakes are as high as they are in this election.