Why Are Conservatives Surprised at How Romney Is Using Ryan?

Paul Ryan is not bringing a big change to Mitt Romney's campaign as many conservatives hoped he would.

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Conservatives reportedly aren't pleased with how Mitt Romney's presidential campaign is using Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. Instead of the House Budget Committee chairman "Ryanizing Romney," Politico reports, the vice presidential candidate has become "mini-Mitt." Well, what did they expect? After all Romney's the presidential nominee, not Ryan.

Here's the key paragraph from Friday's Politico report :

The congressman's role now is as little more than a dutiful No. 2, tossing out attack lines to crowds on less conspicuous stops. Instead of being a catalyst for big ideas, critics believe the campaign has been stuck in a pre-Ryan messaging rut. There hasn't been anywhere near enough of Ryan, they say, who has skipped most major national interviews and hewed to a specific script.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Paul Ryan.]

Ryan, in the other words, is behaving exactly like a vice presidential candidate. This is what they do—they follow the nominee's lead and they go hammer and tongs against the other party's ticket. A vice presidential nominee's role is quite literally supposed to be that of a dutiful No. 2.

But the fact of conservative disappointment that Ryan hasn't assumed a more visionary or transformative role speaks to a larger problem that continues to plague Romney, one which was entirely predictable. Romney, who conservatives distrust anyway, has run a campaign remarkably light on policy detail. Those two facts help explain conservatives' outsized expectations for the Ryan portion of the Romney-Ryan ticket—they hoped that the new No. 2 two would fill in the vague details with his own vision, that he would as Politico put it, Ryanize Romney. But that's not the role of the vice presidential nominee. And their hopes are also hampered by the fact that much of Ryan's vision, especially as regards to Medicare, is unpopular with voters. (As I noted in my column last week, for example, Ryan's presence on the ticket has helped House Democrats get traction on the issue.)

[Mort Zuckerman: Romney Can Still Overcome Obama's Dishonest, Divisive Campaign]

This sort of dynamic was, as I said, entirely predictable—so much so that I predicted it when Ryan was first named to the ticket. Referring then to the problem of instances where Ryan disagreed with Romney (as in Romneycare, which he called a "fatal conceit"), I wrote that "it will be interesting to watch the conservative reaction as Ryan is forced to correct himself on this and any other areas of disagreement with the top of the ticket. Given the extent to which his nomination is meant to pacify a querulous base a muzzled or repentant Ryan could prove problematic." The same, of course, holds true for instances like this where Ryan isn't forced to repudiate but merely Romney-ize himself

  • See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.
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