Liberals are proclaiming that by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has changed the strategy of his campaign — when in fact, he’s doubled-down on it.

In a Slate post headlined “Romney/Ryan 2012 Means We’ll Ignore the Biggest Issue of Our Time,” Matthew Yglesias writes:

But attention is to an extent a zero-sum game. And focusing attention on the big-picture disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about long-term fiscal policy means we won’t be focusing attention on what ought to be the most pressing economic policy issue of our time—mass unemployment and the tragic waste of human and economic potential it represents

Talk about wishful thinking!  I think it’s safe to assume that unemployment will continue to be a major focus of the campaign.  Policy wonks and partisans may consider deficit reduction and unemployment as separate issues, but for swing voters I think it all conflates into responsible stewardship of the economy.

Here’s Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post:

… the choice of Ryan pushes against what has been the central theory of Romney’s campaign: make it less of a choice between himself and Obama and more of a referendum on the incumbent president and the languishing economy.

Actually, no matter who is on the ticket, a presidential re-election campaign will always be both a choice between two candidates and a referendum on the incumbent.  This time, Obama doesn’t have the luxury of running against the incumbent.

Ezra Klein, also in the Washington Post:

Romney’s original intention was to make the 2012 election a referendum on President Obama’s management of the economy. Ryan makes it a choice between two competing plans for deficit reduction. This election increasingly resembles the Obama campaign’s strategy rather than the Romney campaign’s strategy.

More wishful thinking.  Although Paul Ryan certainly is the primary focus of election coverage this weekend, that will soon fade.  Ultimately the election is a choice between Romney and Obama.

No matter how much Obama partisans want to wedge Paul Ryan into a Sarah Palin narrative, that won’t work.  Watch Ryan’s famous three-minute “Path to Prosperity” video above and you’ll see an articulate spokesman for fiscal responsibility. What you won’t see is a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

In 2008, I hadn’t paid much attention to the speculation about whom the candidates would name as their running mates.  Obama picked Joe Biden, and I was like, yeah, OK.

Then McCain swung for the fences with Sarah Palin, leading to a post that has lived ever since in my “Favorites” column: “Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin.”  The stages: “Confusion; Rationalization; Annoyance; Gloom; Reconsidering My Vote.”  An excerpt from Stage Two:

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

That was then.  This morning, up early with a touch of insomnia, I flipped on the little TV in the kitchen while the coffee brewed and listened to one of CNN’s talking heads say something along the lines of: “We have breaking news — Mitt Romney will announce his vice presidential running mate later today.”

OMG… I quite literally held my breath.  “Sources say he will name House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan…”

Fist pump. YES!

Ryan first landed on my blogging radar screen in early 2010 as a forceful and articulate fiscal conservative, when he pushed back hard against what was not yet known as Obamacare. In 2011, I praised his “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal, in which he bluntly declared, “both parties have squandered the public’s trust.”  At 42, Ryan is two years younger than Sarah Palin was in 2008, but he has a gravitas that she will never attain.

I continue to believe we have a ridiculous system for choosing a vice president.  I’m just happy that this time, my favored candidate made a good choice.

VP-Maker Myers

With the Republican nomination apparently sewn up, Mitt Romney now turns his attention to the most dangerous and dysfunctional ritual in all of American politics:  The choice of a running mate.  Today Romney named Beth Myers, a long-time senior advisor, to head his vice presidential search committee.

Romney will be the nominee because he is the last candidate standing after a grueling multi-year marathon of fundraising, organization-building and campaigning, leading up to a labyrinth of primaries and caucuses in which his qualifications were scrutinized in detail and weighed against those of other contenders.  He was essentially the runner-up for the nomination in 2008, which means he’s been running for president for more than half a decade.  If he wins, he may or may not become a good president, but at least he will have been thoroughly examined.

So how will the Republican VP nominee be selected?  Sometime in the next four months, Romney will make that decision unilaterally, after a secrecy-shrouded process of his own choosing.  Nobody else gets a vote.

Oh, the Republican Convention in late August could theoretically decline to nominate Romney’s pick, but that’s not going to happen.  Conventions are designed to be coronations, and if there’s no contest for the top of the ticket, there’ll be no contest for the bottom.

Forty-seven men have served as vice president of the United States, and 14 of them have gone on to become president — just under 30%. Disregard the five VPs who were elected in their own right, and you’ve got nine VPs who ascended because of the death or resignation of the president — about 19% of the total.

The primary duty of a vice president is to be ready — and qualified — to assume the presidency on a moment’s notice. Here are some of the people the two major parties have nominated, during my lifetime, for this somber and auspicious role:  Spiro Agnew, Sargeant Shriver, Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, John Edwards.  Four years ago, of course, John McCain tried to hit a five-run homer by choosing Sarah Palin, and succeeded only in creating a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

I don’t have any bright ideas for a better system — I just know this one makes no sense.  And I hope I won’t end up reprising my 2008 election eve post: “Vote for McCain… and pray for his continued good health.”

OK, the Pres has some political skills, and I loved the closing tribute to Seal Team 6.  Obama deserves his share of the credit for approving a risky mission, and he earned the right to a stirring build-up to “God bless the United States of America.”

Onward!  We learned four years ago that one of the greatest perils of running for president is the urge to try to hit a five-run homer when picking a running mate.  Whoever wins the election will have earned the right to finish in the top two, by winning the endorsement of one of our two major political parties.  But could there be a worse way to pick a vice president?  One person makes the decision in secrecy, and it’s virtually irreversible.

I was disappointed when Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana declined to run for president last year.  He might not have ended up being my favorite, but I thought he had potential.  The governor’s response to the the State of the Union address tonight has me ready right now to endorse him for VP.  I’m a sucker for a full-throated celebration of capitalism, and Daniels pitched a gem:

“Contrary to the President’s constant disparagement of people in business, it’s one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs – what a fitting name he had – created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew. Out here in Indiana, when a businessperson asks me what he can do for our state, I say ‘First, make money. Be successful. If you make a profit, you’ll have something left to hire someone else, and some to donate to the good causes we love.’

“The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy. It must be replaced by a passionate pro-growth approach that breaks all ties and calls all close ones in favor of private sector jobs that restore opportunity for all and generate the public revenues to pay our bills.

And here’s a tiger-whistle to fellow Princeton grads: Mitch Daniels ’71!

Palin Backlash Watch, Parts III & IV

From Tammy Bruce, former head of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW and “a registered Democrat her entire life until February”:

In the shadow of the blatant and truly stunning sexism launched against the Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign, and as a pro-choice feminist, I wasn’t the only one thrilled to hear Republican John McCain announce Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. For the GOP, she bridges for conservatives and independents what I term “the enthusiasm gap” for the ticket. For Democrats, she offers something even more compelling – a chance to vote for a someone who is her own woman, and who represents a party that, while we don’t agree on all the issues, at least respects women enough to take them seriously.

From Phyllis Chesler, feminist psychologist and author of a dozen books on women’s issues:

Ah, the abortion issue, always, only, the abortion issue. We fought hard for that right, and we have been forced to continue fighting for it. I don’t agree with the Right to Life position but I can work with someone whether or not we agree on this hot-button issue. … I have worked with some Christian conservatives who are anti-abortion but who are, nevertheless, pro-woman. Interestingly, they have sometimes taken pro-woman stands that are, in my view, even more radical in certain areas than those taken by secular feminists. Indeed, I have found that religious people can also be profoundly pro-woman. Feminism cannot be defined only by secularists or only by one political party.

Contra Tammy Bruce, I don’t think Obama’s decision to pass over Hillary Clinton had as much to do with sexism as it did with Clinton’s own baggage, as well as Obama’s understandable desire to avoid being saddled with a second-guessing Second Gentleman who used to hold the top job.

I also, frankly, still don’t think Palin is qualified to be president. She would not have been selected if she were a man. However, Democrats are in no position to complain about appeals to identity politics.

Palin joins a long tradition of underqualified VP nominees in both parties, ranging in my lifetime from Spiro Agnew to Sargeant Shriver to Geraldine Ferraro to Dan Quayle to John Edwards. I’ll take my chances with Palin.

McCain Strategist Describes the Vetting of Palin

I’m skeptical of the partisan contention that McCain did little or no vetting of Palin in advance of the announcement. Here’s an extended response from the McCain camp — according to an unidentified senior McCain strategist, the vetting

“included her filling out a 70-question questionnaire that was highly intrusive and personal. She was then interviewed for more than three hours by A.B. Culvahouse [head of the VP selection team]. There were multiple follow-up interviews. … There was a public records search and political vet. There was a private life and financial vet. Everything that has come out was known by the campaign through the vetting process.”

Because of America’s bizarre process for vice presidential selection, the safest pick for a running mate seems to be someone who has recently run for president (Obama-Biden, Kerry-Edwards, Clinton-Gore, Reagan-GWBush, etc.) If the prospective VP has not already been through the campaign crucible, the vetting has to be accomplished in strict secrecy, and the secrecy inherently limits how thorough the vetting can be.

The Quayle Comparison

The second half of this 1988 NYT article explains how George H.W. Bush waited until the convention was already under way to announce Dan Quayle as his running mate. Consequently, the first part of the convention was overshadowed by speculation about who would be the VP candidate, and the second part was overshadowed by a media feeding frenzy over Quayle, aggravated by Quayle’s fumbling responses in his initial interviews about “his military service, a golf trip to Florida with a female lobbyist and whether he had enough experience to be President.” (Hat tip: Slate.)

Palin acquitted herself reasonably well in her first public remarks, when she was introduced on the morning of the announcement. She’ll be under the microscope tonight when she speaks at the convention.

In choosing a President, standard-bearers for each of the major parties bubble up to the top through an extended process of caucuses and primaries over a period of months. The contenders then essentially campaign in 50 separate state elections, vying for a majority of Electoral College votes that are apportioned according to state population. Checks and balances everywhere you look.

What about choosing the Vice President? You know, the person who’s a heartbeat away from the most powerful office on earth? Oh, one person makes that decision unilaterally.

The VP is not elected or confirmed in any meaningful way — theoretically the party convention could reject a VP candidate, but it won’t happen, and even if it did, that’s not a choice, that’s a veto. The VP nominally is elected along with the President — but it’s a package deal, the votes really are being cast for the top of the ticket.

One person’s unilateral decision. Even an Assistant Secretary of the Interior has a more rigorous vetting process — the Senate has to confirm the choice.

Originally, whoever came in second was named the Vice President. So when John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson became VP. Then Jefferson ran against his boss four years later and ousted him. Bizarre as it sounds, I almost think that’s a better system than what we have now. The Secret Service might have to protect the President FROM the Vice President… but if the VP moves up, at least the incoming President would have been a strong vote-getter in a national election.

Five Stages of Adjusting to Palin

As a socially liberal McCain supporter living in one of the bluest towns in a blue state, I’ve learned how to reconcile myself to various aspects of his candidacy. The most glaring example is abortion rights, where I think McCain is on the wrong side of the issue. But for me the issues that trump all others are the Iraq war and the war against Islamic extremism. Obama has many appealing qualities, but of the two, McCain is the candidate I want as Commander-in-Chief, and everything else is secondary for me.

I paid very little attention to the pre-announcement VP discussions in either party. When Biden was named, I thought it undercut Obama’s change message, but that he’s a safe choice and I could imagine him as President. Then came the Palin announcement.

Stage 1: Confusion

Hm… First-term governor of a sparsely populated state — doesn’t that undercut the most potent argument against Obama? I saw the first Palin headlines just before I got on the treadmill, and this stage lasted throughout my half-hour workout.

Stage 2: Rationalization

OK, so it’s not a great pick, but maybe it will help McCain get elected by shoring up his relationship with social conservatives, and attracting disaffected Hillary voters who already are considering McCain.

This stage lasted the rest of the day Friday, while I hunted for reasons to reassure myself that she’s not a terrible choice.

  • Social conservatives are my least favorite part of the Republican coalition, and I also have little patience for people who attribute Hillary Clinton’s loss to sexism rather than to her own baggage and the appeal of her rival. But while placating these groups is a low priority for me, their votes count as much as mine do, and my candidate needs every vote he can get.
  • Inexperienced though she is, Palin has electoral appeal (80% approval rating in Alaska) and some steel in her spine. She ousted a sitting governor, then took on the corrupt senior officeholders of her own party. I’d vote for her for governor of Alaska in a heartbeat.

Stage 3: Annoyance

I woke up in this stage this morning. Why couldn’t he just have picked Romney? I don’t particularly like Romney, but the guy came in second — the positives and negatives about him are already well known. It would have been a safe choice, certainly by comparison, and the VP contest would have become irrelevant, as it normally is.

Stage 4: Gloom

I slipped into this stage later in the morning while talking with my Obama-supporting wife. Nina and I share common values and we would never mock each other, even by proxy. She respects my reasons for supporting McCain, but she’s going to pull the other lever in November. She was very gentle when she said, after I watched video of Palin’s remarks, “I’m sorry, honey, but it doesn’t look good for your team.”

I agree, it doesn’t. Maybe things will look brighter after the convention, where we’ll get to know Palin better and hear more about why McCain picked her. But right now I see her as a net drag on the ticket. She’ll gain votes among social convervatives and maybe among some Hillary fans, but she saps the life out of the experience issue. Even some social conservatives have qualms about tokenism — Ramesh Ponnuru said “Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?”

Stage 5: Reconsidering My Vote

I haven’t quite reached this stage yet. Maybe I won’t. I think McCain made a bad choice, but anybody can make a bad choice. Obama has made bad choices. The top of the ticket still matters most, and I still prefer McCain over Obama. But I’ve never been an Obama hater, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that he would be a disastrous president. Issues aside, I would be proud to have a black president, as long as it’s Obama and not Jesse Jackson.

A vice president only really matters if the president dies. I hope McCain lives another thirty years or more, but he turned 72 yesterday. Sarah Palin seems like a decent and courageous woman, and she might do a great job as president. But the heartbeat-away factor — the most relevant question for a vice president — clearly favors Biden. I’m talking here not about issues, just about readiness to step in and do the job.

The fact that I’m even thinking along these lines doesn’t bode well for McCain’s ability to pick up voters like me, who if not for the war would be inclined to vote for Democrats.