— Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate has sparked renewed interest in the 2012 campaign.
At least on the political fringes. The ideological right views Ryan as one of their own, especially when it comes to the idea of hacking away at taxes and federal spending.
And the ideological left sees him as the architect of a society where the elites would have absolute power and wealth would be completely controlled by the favored few. In this society, the poor and unfortunate would be left to fend for themselves.
In other words, Ryan’s selection serves to continue the polarization of American politics. We are devolving into a Third-World political culture, where the pluralism and compromise of the center is drowned out by the gnashing of teeth on the extremes.
Meanwhile, political pundits had to make the transformation from who Romney would pick to why he picked Ryan. From the left and right, you again hear that the choice suggests Romney wants to run on the tough conservative fiscal principles that Ryan espouses.
But this talk ignores the real reason vice presidents are selected: To bring something to the ticket. And in this case, Romney’s decision reflects the fact that many conservative Republicans don’t trust him. Ryan is an olive branch of sorts to the GOP base, a wink and a nod that Romney really is one of them.
Romney will campaign on his own platform, not Ryan’s. The last thing any presidential candidate wants is a running mate who overshadows him. If that happens, voters start wondering why the ticket isn’t reversed, and suddenly, the election is lost.
Traditionally, presidential candidates move toward the center as the general election approaches and they try to broaden their support. But the hardened attitudes in modern American politics may prevent that from happening. That’s particularly true with Romney, who may have to run on Ryan’s record, even if he doesn’t necessarily want to.
Democrats are already praising Ryan in backhanded fashion, describing him as a serious, dedicated leader. The strategy is to create the public impression that Ryan is a force to be reckoned with, not only as a means of sounding the alarm to the Democratic base, but also to indicate that Romney must be linked to Ryan’s views.
One would hope that Romney and his team thought all of this out before picking Ryan. This suggests they are indeed preparing for a tough, economy-oriented campaign, where they will make the case to the American people that harsh decisions have to be made regarding federal spending and the budget.
And that Romney is the candidate who can lead the way.
But will that work? Are voters prepared to embrace a candidacy that comes with a large dose of bitter medicine — even when at least some of it is increasingly necessary?
Historically, successful presidential campaigns focus on positive messages and the likability of the candidate. This approach certainly put Barack Obama in office in 2008.
Is the situation in America sufficiently dire that voters are prepared to focus on issues rather than style? And if so, do they believe Romney has the answers? This year’s presidential campaign is coming down to these few key questions.
Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.