For Romney, Ryan's Pros Are Also His Cons

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(The Root) — There's an alternate universe somewhere out there in which the GOP wound up getting the presidential nominee that it really always wanted: a perfect Tea Party specimen possessing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's brain, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's conservative ardor and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Latino-ness — all packed into Texas Gov. Rick Perry's shell.


In real life, though, they wound up with Mitt Romney: a one-term governor with good hair and a nervous laugh who's flip-flopped on almost every political issue of his career.

But now, at least according to conventional wisdom, Republicans have Paul Ryan — the 42 year-old House Budget Committee chairman who Romney announced on Saturday as his vice-presidential running mate while they stood on the pier together in front of the bunting-clad battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin among cheering supporters in Norfolk, Va.

And now, in theory, the ideological tug-of-war is balanced out between the issue-agnostic, corporate-friendly Republicanism represented by Romney, and the Tea Party-inspired, fiscally hawkish populism touted by Ryan.

Except that when it comes to tough budgetary calls, Ryan's as big a squish as Romney.

In his brief speech accepting Romney's nomination, Ryan said President Barack Obama "refused to make difficult decisions" when it comes to the budget. But it'll be a dicey case for him to make after voters are reminded that Ryan's done as much as almost anyone over his 14 years in Congress to help rack up enormous federal deficits.

Ryan voted for the TARP bailout — the only sensible course of action after the 2008 banking crash, but a course that's been routinely denounced by fellow conservatives. And he voted "yes" on President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq and Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit — the most notorious federal budget busters of the last decade.


Counter to the conventional wisdom, Ryan's not a counterweight to Romney as much as he is a bookend — who voted for the priciest programs of the Bush era, then abruptly found fiscal religion in the Obama era.

For Romney, here's where three Ryan "pros" might also be "cons":

Ryan's Budget Plan

Pro: In a campaign that's been focused for weeks on Romney's undisclosed tax returns and Obama's "you didn't build that" gaffe, the Ryan pick portends a "real" debate about the "Roadmap" — Ryan's plan to cut corporate taxes, top-marginal income tax rates and social spending while introducing the "premium support" private insurance subsidy concept to Medicare. It's a debate that conservatives appear eager to have.


Con: It's a debate that liberals want, too. And they'll rap Romney and Ryan for trying to turn comprehensive Medicare coverage into a "voucher" system that seniors would use to supplement, but not fully pay for, their health costs.

The V.P. Debate

Pro: Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's Romney-backing blogger, writes confidently that the Biden-Ryan debate on Oct. 11 at Centre College in Kentucky will be a "knee-slapper" — meaning she expects the energetic Ryan to handily whip Biden.


Con: But while Ryan knows his way around public policy, don't sleep on the veep, who sagely applied the "first do no harm" rule of politics in the 2008 cycle by treading lightly in his debate with Sarah Palin. She won the debate; he won the election.

Foreign Policy

Pro: And though Ryan doesn't have any foreign policy experience, this is an election year in which voters' minds are on domestic issues.


Con: That said, Ryan and Romney are still going up against Biden, the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, and Obama, the president who took out Osama bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi last summer.

Romney and Ryan will be counting on voters forgetting about foreign affairs, buying into the Ryan budget and letting Republicans off the hook for their role in spending the country into oblivion — and we won't know if that strategy works until Election Day. But like the double-edged sword Ryan is carrying on the issue of fiscal responsibility, for every "pro" that he brings to the ticket, there's a corresponding "con."


David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter