On Saturday, August 11, “before the press and just about everyone else” was notified, the Mitt Romney campaign used a mobile phone app to inform supporters that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would be the Republican candidate for vice president. Romney’s choice is significant. No vice presidential candidate has been a deciding factor in an American election since Lyndon Johnson carried Texas for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Since then the operative principle for Republicans and Democrats in selecting a VP has been the political equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath for physicians: Do No Harm.
Romney was widely expected to make a “safe” choice—of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman, U.S. Senator from Ohio. Instead, he has, uncharacteristically, rolled the dice. The forty-two year old Ryan is an experienced, articulate and influential legislator, a vigorous campaigner, and the darling of conservative Republicans and Tea Party activists. A key factor in his selection is his ability to energise the party’s base, which has been less than enthusiastic about Governor Romney, a former Massachusetts moderate. Ryan’s supporters suggest as well that he will help the GOP win the 10 Electoral votes of his home state, which has been carried by the Democrats in every presidential election since the 1980s.
But Ryan’s presence on the ticket also gives President Obama an opportunity to change the conversation from the fragile, and some say faltering, economy, to a federal spending plan, authored by Ryan, that Newt Gingrich (of all people) called “right wing social engineering.” First introduced in 2010 and known variously as The Path to Prosperity and The Roadmap, the Ryan budget proposes radical changes in the role of government in promoting and protecting the welfare of American citizens – and an attack on Social Security and Medicare, two of the most popular programs in the United States.