The GOP's Shrinking Base

The white working-class group that Romney and his VP pick are courting isn't what it used to be.

Darren Hauck/Getty Images

(The Root) -- Mitt Romney has managed to do the impossible: find a running mate who is the mirror image of himself.

In a surprising, though not completely unexpected, move, Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his vice presidential nominee. Ryan, who hails from the small town of Janesville, Wisconsin, has risen to national prominence in recent years as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

His signature legislative proposal, the Path to Prosperity, has been widely criticized for its reduction of taxes for corporations and wealthy Americans -- while deeply cutting social welfare programs. The Paul Ryan budget effectively destroys Medicare by turning it into a voucher program; slashes funding to Medicaid, which serves single mothers, children and the poor; and privatizes Social Security, leaving the elderly without a safety net.

Meanwhile, Romney's "Etch A Sketch" candidacy -- with his reinvention from a Massachusetts moderate to ultraconservative presidential candidate -- is still plagued by accusations of flip-flopping and pandering. This required him to choose a running mate with unquestionable credibility.

Enter Paul Ryan.

Digging Into Ryan's Roots

Ryan, a conservative Catholic and Tea Party darling, provides a buffer for Romney with evangelical Christians, many of whom remain dubious about Romney's Mormon faith. Others cite Romney's blue blood background and inability to connect with average Americans as a reason to stay home on Election Day. Ryan is a conduit to this key constituency. He's from Wisconsin, a quintessential Midwestern state, and he enjoys college ties to the key swing state of Ohio.

From the outside, Ryan's roots appeal directly to the base whose support Romney desperately needs to win, namely working-class whites. And this is the story Republicans have already begun to tell. Pundits have painted a picture of Ryan as a normal guy who lost his dad when he was 16, and paid for college tuition with Social Security benefits. You know -- someone just like you.

Except that Ryan actually has far more in common with George W. Bush and Willard Romney than he does with the unemployed steelworkers in Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Paul Ryan comes from a storied family, with wealth and history to boot. His great-grandfather started a hugely successful company, Ryan Inc., in 1884, which is now a national construction firm, with projects like the original development of O'Hare Airport and numerous golf courses under its belt. The company's website boast contracts of up to $50 million and is still family-owned.

Ryan's father became a lawyer instead of joining the family firm, and Ryan himself decided to study economics at Miami University in Ohio, but he has spent most of his life in politics. Indeed, his only private-sector experience was working as a "marketing consultant" for a brief time at the family company, a move that the New Yorker referred to as "résumé padding."