In the 2008 presidential election, John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin helped energize the base. There was a definite enthusiasm gap among the base, and Palin helped shrink that gap. She gave conservatives more reason to be excited and engaged. However, with all due respect to Senator McCain, a lot of conservatives voted for her, but never warmed up to McCain himself. (People were selling Palin–McCain stickers at the time, indicating who they really would have preferred be on the top of the ticket.)
It is well known that Romney was not the average movement-conservative’s first choice. Yes, he has enjoyed a definite coalescing of the base in recent weeks, but a significant portion of that is no doubt due to a profound desire to eject the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania, rather than enthusiastic support for Romney himself.
The Ryan pick, however, has shown the base something new . . . and I am not just talking about giving the base Paul Ryan to vote for. I am talking about Mitt Romney showing himself—as himself—to be a greater man than many conservatives may have given him credit for being.
The first point is one now being made across the new media universe, so I will not belabor it. By picking Ryan, Romney is showing that he is serious. In spite of the massive political risks, he is tackling the biggest issue facing our country head-on. He isn’t trying to duck the issue and squeak out a narrow victory, followed by a presidency of dithering and managing a slow decline. Before the Ryan pick, we could have held out hope that after the election, Romney would get serious about our biggest problem. By taking the risk in picking Ryan—in other words, taking the entitlements plunge before the election—we KNOW he’s serious. We know he won’t hide from the issue as president. This tells us a lot about the man. (It also happens to allay one of my deepest fears about a Romney victory.)
Character and courage.
The second is an issue of character. Conservatives who are paying even a little bit of attention know that Romney is a wonderful husband and father. Keen observers are aware that he has saved lives, helped low-income people with his own money, and given massively to charity. By all accounts (at least accounts that you don’t hear from the left, who will say anything to retain power), he is a man of sterling character.
That being said, some conservatives also accord him the reputation of someone who will do and say anything to get elected—thus questioning his character in that regard at least. But when we look at the Ryan pick, we have to wonder about that assertion, on several levels. First, the obvious one: the Ryan pick is not a “safe” choice. Romney is going for broke here, taking on America’s biggest challenge, which just happens to be the most politically risky subject there is. That shows both principle and courage.
Principle above self-interest.
The third reason pertains to that courage, both in the obvious way that it shows courage, but also in another way—one that is, thus far, not as widely discussed.
Think about it . . .
Paul Ryan is young, dynamic, and charming. He is comfortable in his own skin. He has a tremendous body of knowledge, and the ability to convey that knowledge to people of all walks of life, political persuasions, and levels of understanding. He is affable and personable. And arguably, he has each one of these characteristics in greater measure than Mitt Romney!
Romney seems, to all but the most biased observers, to be a nice and decent fellow. But let’s face it—he also can come off, at times, as awkward or aloof. He’s not the most inspiring speaker ever to grace the hustings. Like Ryan, he’s a numbers guy, but where it comes off as a strength in Ryan’s case, more often than not, it seems like a bit of a liability for Romney—a barrier between him and a deeper connection with the voters. Ryan, thus, presents Romney with a classic risk—that the vice presidential nominee might outshine the presidential nominee.
It says a lot about Romney that he is willing to take that risk. More than possibly any other choice he could have made, the Ryan pick shows that Mitt Romney cares more about the issues than about his own narrow self-interest. It took genuine courage, and it says a lot about the man. He’s secure about who he is, and he genuinely cares what happens to America.
Growing in office.
Back when I lived in California and the election to recall Governor Gray Davis was in full swing, I made a personal determination. TomClintock, as much as I admired and agreed with him ideologically, had no chance of winning in a multi-candidate race where there was a Democrat choice and the very popular Arnold Schwarzeneggar. I may have been right, I may have been wrong, but it seemed to me that there was no way that Republican voters were all going to hold ranks and vote for McClintock, so we had to make our peace with, and maybe even get excited about, the “Terminator” as governor of California.
The way I rationalized it in my own thinking was to hope, to presume, to convince myself that Schwarzeneggar was going to grow more conservative while in office. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. There are a lot of reasons why, including his chastening defeat on a series of ballot propositions, the Democratic control (and sheer madness) of much of the legislature, and the ongoing flight of many of the smarter rats in the electorate from the slowly foundering USS California. Whatever the reason, it happened.
Since then, I have been more reluctant to hold out hope that any politician would move in a more conservative direction once in office. And yet, many conservatives are no doubt thinking such very thoughts in regards to Mitt Romney. Here’s Paul Rahe.
Until now, I have banished such thoughts and wishes. Whatever Romney is—even in a purist conservative’s (or libertarian’s) worst estimations—he’s far, far better than Barack Obama. Heck, just for the Supreme Court appointments alone, Mitt Romney’s election is essential and desirable.
But with the Ryan pick, once again, we are forced to take a new measure of the man. By picking Paul Ryan, when it is most risky, he is making it as plain as day who he is and what his priorities are. We don’t even have to wait until he takes office to find out. Mitt Romney has already grown in office.
This was an historic election even when it was just about getting rid of Obama, Now, Mitt Romney has made it an historic choice elction, and he has given conservatives some terrific reasons to vote FOR him.