Mitt Romney set the thrust of his presidential campaign from the beginning, the successful businessman who would bring to the White House the skills required to energize a troubled economy. Whatever his stumbles the past year, his struggle to explain how his experience would translate to the Oval Office, he has held to that theme, seeking to draw a sharp contrast with President Obama, pushing the image of a likable yet overmatched incumbent.
With the selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has altered the message. Perhaps campaign polling revealed it wasn’t working, Romney on the defensive as he has grappled with criticism of his tenure at Bain Capital. Now the conversation turns to the role of government, with Ryan’s no less than radical vision of a drastically reduced Washington front and center.
Pick Rob Portman to fill the Republican ticket, and you not only get help in the battleground of Ohio. You get knowledge of the capital, of policy, and you stay away from the ideological wars, the senator plenty conservative yet alert to the enduring political art of the possible, thus, appealing to independents and those undecided.
No doubt, Romney has had a hard time with the base of the party. Still, at this point, the motivation in the ranks appears strong: Dump Obama.
Maybe the chemistry is right, Romney feeling more at ease with Ryan, his engaging temperament and approach to policy. Hard to miss was the Romney camp moving quickly to assert that the presidential candidate will drive decision-making, that Romney doesn’t necessarily agree with Ryan on every matter. Yet here is the challenge in tapping Ryan, the question arising: How do you differ? The answer requires details, and a vision of government that Romney so far has avoided, except to argue that he would do better.
In their joint interview with 60 Minutes over the weekend, Ryan talked about a life dedicated “to saving this country.” What is entailed in the rescue? He proposes lower tax rates and fewer tax breaks, wealthier households benefiting in a big way. He would remake Medicare (through vouchers) and Medicaid (block grants to states). He would eventually shrink discretionary spending (defense, education, FBI, food safety, research and other traditional elements) from 12 percent of the federal budget to 4 percent during the next three decades. Yet for all the promises about “tough choices,” he has defined few precisely.
Ryan seeks a dramatically different role for the federal government than the one developed the past century and that has elevated the country. Does Mitt Romney share the Ryan vision? In selecting his vice presidential candidate, he has put the premium on a detailed answer.