Mitt Romney has gotten lucky more than a candidate for President ever should. He watched as Rick Perry spectacularly imploded on the debate stage, as Newt Gingrich soiled his own candidacy with gaffe-ish comments about junior janitors, and as Rick Santorum was systematically dissected by pundits and PACs alike. But at the time he selected Paul Ryan to be his running-mate, it appeared that Mitt Romney may have been pressing his luck. What candidate hanging in the race by his fingernails would select someone vulnerable to not only the Dan Quayle Inexperience Syndrome, but also to the political poison ivy of the 112th Congress? Although the selection of Paul Ryan clearly did not revolutionize the race, this article will show that the fallout could have been worse. And for Mitt Romney, “could have been worse” is actually a miracle.
For being one of the most recognizable members of the 112th Congress, Paul Ryan certainly has been fortunate to avoid its less-than-stellar perception among the American public. How could the Obama campaign not use Congress’ chasmic approval rating, currently at 13.8% by RealClearPolitics’ average, against Ryan? This is a phenomenon in U.S. politics. Also, one of the effective criticisms of H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992 was the perceived ineptness of his running-mate, Dan Quayle. His young age-and frequent gaffes-enhanced these attacks. So far, few criticisms of Ryan on this level have broken through to the mainstream. Therefore, Representative Ryan(and Mitt Romney) have gotten lucky, all because the other side neglected to aggressively capitalize on Ryan’s potential liabilities. Why spend so much time getting into the generally uninteresting details of the Ryan budget plan when he could be labeled(more easily) as a microcosm of the reviled Congress?
Republicans are looking forward with glee to the Vice Presidential debate less than one week away, anticipating a a Ryan smackdown on the gaffe-prone Joe Biden. However, they may be overestimating their chances. The Vice President, although often portrayed as a little loose on the stump, has the potential to be ruthlessly effective, especially after President Obama’s mediocre debate performance on Wednesday night. On the other hand, Ryan will have a difficult time trying to follow Romney’s act. The Vice Presidential debate may actually be a weak point on the Republican side, rather than the Great Biden Roast that the GOP thirst for.
Democratic surrogates need to start making the media rounds, hoping to gut Ryan once and for all. They must settle criticizing either his limited experience or his Congressman status. If not, Ryan will emerge from Thursday night’s debate as the vibrant leader that Republicans want the country to see, and Joe Biden’s vast Senate record will be a complete waste.
Ultimately, Paul Ryan may not have that many tricks left up his sleeve. Wisconsin remains strongly in the Obama column, with only 42% of respondents to a Marquette University Law Scool poll supporting Romney. If there is one miracle the Republicans need now, it’s for Representative Ryan to win his home state back over, so that a Romney victory can even be considered.