Mitt Romney's choice of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate demonstrates a boldness and strength in Romney that few other actions could have proved. Ryan is the best choice logically, politically, and substantively and, in Ryan, Mr. Romney has chosen a running mate that is his peer, not just a caboose on a long, heavy campaign train.
As I wrote back in April, Ryan is a fact-driven choice that will help Romney among all the key groups -- conservatives, moderates, and independents alike -- who can now be motivated enough to turn out and vote.
The first fact is that Ryan is Romney's peer: a man of strong character and political achievements who could be a powerful part of a Romney administration. As the Almanac of American Politics says of Ryan, he is "regarded as an intellectual leader in the GOP for his unrivaled influence on fiscal matters." That intellectual horsepower is one of the first things that come up whenever you talk to the people who know Ryan best, the House members who have worked with him for years.
One of them is Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), one of the strong conservatives who has been fighting the good fight against Obama's spending spree. (Pence is running for governor of Indiana this year.) Shortly after Romney and Ryan appeared on Saturday announcing Ryan's selection, Pence told me, "I have known and worked with Paul Ryan for the past twelve years and count him as a personal friend. Paul has the character, intellect and optimistic vision our next president will need at his side to turn this economy around and put Hoosiers back to work. Paul Ryan also possesses an understanding of the federal budget that our next administration will need to restore fiscal solvency and save future generations from massive deficits and debt."
Ryan's intellect is matched by his debating and speaking skills. In February 2010, at Obama's "summit meeting" on Obamacare, Ryan -- politely and firmly -- schooled the president on the devastating impact Obamacare will have on the budget, on Medicare, and on our economy. After Joe Biden dissed the Republicans by saying they weren't qualified to speak for the American people, Ryan told Obama: "…I respectfully disagree with the vice president about what the American people are or are not saying or whether we're qualified to speak on their behalf. So we are all representatives of the American people. We all do town hall meetings. We all talk to our constituents. And I've got to tell you, the American people are engaged. And if you think they want a government takeover of health care, I would respectfully submit you're not listening to them." (It's worth watching the whole six-minute video you'll find here.)
Ryan is the logical and substantive choice because Obama and congressional Dems have made it clear -- by pre-emptively demonizing Ryan's budget "Roadmap" -- that they will make the roadmap a key issue this year. They want to continue demonizing it, making false accusations such as that it won't cut the deficit and will destroy Medicare. Who better to not only defend it, but to take the fight to Obama and Biden than the man who wrote the Ryan Roadmap?
The latest version of the Ryan plan -- which has twice passed the House by large margins -- was scored in 2010 by the Congressional Budget Office. On January 27, 2010 CBO reported:
• Federal government debt and spending -- on Obama's course -- will reach 223% of the Gross Domestic Product by 2040. Ryan's plan reduces that to 99%. (That was before Obamacare, which adds -- according to the Senate Budget Committee Republicans -- about $17 trillion in unfunded debt over the next 75 years.)
• The Ryan plan provides that Americans over 65 by 2020 will receive current and rising Medicare benefits for life. Those who reach 65 after 2020 will be given vouchers to purchase private health insurance, resulting in enormous savings in federal spending. CBO says, "Under [Ryan's] proposal, national health expenditures would almost certainly be lower than they would under [Obama's vague plan.]"
• "The lower budget deficits under [Ryan's] proposal would result in much less federal debt than under the alternative [Obama] fiscal scenario and thereby a much more favorable economic outlook."
The 42-year old Ryan was Romney's best choice for those reasons alone. But there are other things about him that add to what the media likes to call "electability." He's no radical, has a great family (the kids have the cuteometer pegged on "high"), and is solid on conservative social principles. Moreover, he's a hunter and outdoorsman, not a hunter-poseur like Vichy John Kerry.
Paul Ryan is a warm, charming guy. He can be as intense as his work on the federal budget demands, but talking to him privately, as I've done in his House office, is like listening to Dean Martin singing: you relax without realizing it. As he proved on Saturday accepting Romney's selection of him, Ryan is a superb speaker who will be good on the stump and in the vice-presidential debate. (Saturday was a bad day for Joe Biden. The Ryan-Biden debate will be memorable and probably hilarious, given Joe's gaffe-prone speech.)
On Saturday, accepting Romney's choice, Ryan gave a speech that included a lot of principles that he spoke of in terms that should become campaign themes for the Republican ticket. For example, Ryan said: "No one disputes President Obama inherited a difficult situation. And, in his first two years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda. But that didn't make things better. In fact, we find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt and despair." That, he said, is what many people want to accept as the "new normal" which he rejected.
Ryan spoke repeatedly about his father, who died at an early age. His father told him that people are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution, and Ryan said Obama is part of the problem. He talked about how politicians of both parties delay making tough choices, saying, "We might have been able to get away with that before, but not now. We're in a different, and dangerous, moment. We're running out of time -- and we can't afford four more years of this." He promised that he and Romney would "turn this around." Turning America around will be a tough job, but Romney and Ryan are capable of doing it.
Ryan's relative youth is another strength. It's not hard to imagine him running to succeed Romney in 2020, which bodes well for a revival of Republican principles and fortunes.
It's time for all Republicans and conservatives to bury the hatchet. We can quibble privately about this and that, and bemoan the fact that Ronald Reagan isn't with us. But between now and November 7 -- the day after the election -- we need to do everything in our power to turn America around. That means electing the Romney-Ryan ticket.