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Romney needed to pick Ryan

Oxford University Press USA is putting together a series of articles on a political topic each week for four weeks as the United States discusses the upcoming American presidential election, and Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Last week our authors tackled the issue of money and politics. This week we turn to the role of political conventions and party conferences (as they’re called in the UK).

By David C. Barker and Christopher Jan Carman


Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the new Republican vice presidential nominee, has many virtues as a candidate. He is smart, charismatic and energetic, and he hails from a competitive but usually blue-leaning state that the GOP would like to secure into the red column. But one of Ryan’s virtues stands out above the rest for the Tea Partiers and other conservatives whom Governor Romney is still trying to win over. Ryan is perceived as being a person of conviction — someone who comes to his policy positions based on his commitment to certain ideological principles, and who will not alter those positions based on changes in what his constituents may want (i.e. polls). He doesn’t shy away from the unpopular House budget from the last two years that bears his name, which would have saved billions of dollars by turning Medicare into a voucher program, among other things. And that is just one example. Conservatives admire Ryan for “sticking to his guns.”

Mitt Romney & Paul Ryan at a rally in Norfolk, VA. Photo by James Currie, 11 August 2012. Creative Commons License.

This reputation of Ryan’s stands in contrast, of course, to the reputation Romney has garnered (fairly or not) as an opportunistic flip-flopper who panders to public opinion. And this is why Romney stands to gain — with the Republican base at least — with what is otherwise being viewed as a risky, Hail Mary pass of a pick. (For all of Ryan’s political virtues, after all, he also has some drawbacks. He is quite young and relatively inexperienced for a top-of-the ticket type of candidate, and he is viewed by many as ideologically extreme and rigid.) What Romney needs more than anything else is for “his people” to trust him enough to show up in droves this November. Without that, he has no chance of beating Obama — or even coming close. And for the base to do that, they need to have someone on the ticket whom they feel like they can trust and believe in. By picking Ryan, Romney has helped his case with that all-important constituency.

If Romney were a Democrat, he probably wouldn’t have to worry about such things. After all, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Bill Clinton labored under the “pandering flip-flopper” label as well, but it didn’t hurt them with the Democratic base in the way that Romney suffers with his base. The reason is that Democrats actually tend to appreciate politicians whose policy positions evolve in service to changes in public opinion.

In other words, liberal Democrats on average tend to embrace the popular democratic vision much more readily than conservative Republicans do. On the other hand, conservative Republicans on average tend to express greater appreciation for elected officials who “lead” based on internalized principles, thus spurning capricious public opinion. What this means is that liberal, “blue” America is a different type of representative democracy than is conservative “red” America — one where citizens have much more direct, policymaking power over what their representatives do.

David C. Barker and Christopher Jan Carman are the authors of Representing Red and Blue: How the Culture Wars Change the Way Citizens Speak and Politicians Listen. David C. Barker is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh and Director Designate of the Institute of Social Research at California State University – Sacramento. Since receiving his PhD from the University of Houston in 1998, he has authored dozens of scholarly journal articles on the subjects of public opinion and electoral politics. His previous book, Rushed to Judgment? Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior, was nominated for several awards. Christopher Jan Carman is Senior Research Lecturer in Government at the University of Strathclyde. He received his PhD from the University of Houston in 2000. He is also a co-author of Elections and Voters in Britain, 3rd ed. He has served as a consultant for the Scottish Parliament and a psephologist for BBC News.

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Recent Comments

  1. Panskeptic

    Romney needed to select Ryan, over the unanimous objections of his own staff, because David Koch offered Romney an extra 100 million dollars in campaign funding.

    Money talks, and nowhere louder than in Republican politics.

  2. Steven Davis

    Thank you for being objective.

  3. SmarterThanYou

    Ryan is just another cog in the wealth machine for the rich, white 1%. Your comment that his Medicare plan would save billions is laughable & frightening all at the same time.

  4. Elroy Huckelberry

    What Romney needs to do and quickly is clarify his position regarding his economic plan for the US. To get full employment. He shouldn t attack Obama on whether he was born in the USA this is stupid and there is nothing worst than having a stupid president. What Romney needs to do is shift the focus to jobs. Unemployment has gone up from 8.1 to 8.3 % and he needs to present a feesable plan to get it back down to 5-6 %. Romney also needs to disclose his taxes from the last 5 years and get that issue in the open and resolved. Romney needs to build trust with the people regarding his foreign policy and his visoin of the Future. Regarding China, regarding Afganistan and regarding the European debt plan and how to get the US debt down without causing and other recessoin.

  5. Leslie L. Kaye

    I am an independent but have voted Democratic in the past. I cannot vote for Romney/Ryan because they do not care about the poor and I like Medicare just the way it is right now. I am not poor but I am a senior and being female and a feminist I certainly wouldn’t even consider them for an instant! I’ll just be very happy when all of this “stuff” is over and President Obama can do his job hopefully without a split Congress that will fight everything he wants to do to improve this country. This world is in a sorry state of affairs. Humans just can’t get along at all.

  6. Andrew

    “Ryan is perceived as being a person of conviction — someone who comes to his policy positions based on his commitment to certain ideological principles, and who will not alter those positions based on changes in what his constituents may want (i.e. polls).”

    How is not representing the constituents that you are supposed to represent seen as a good thing in a democratic society?

  7. jose

    The Republicans felt that Romney was not going to win and looked for someone in Congress to help him. Boehner and a bunch of Congress Republicans recommended Ryan. Ryan is a strong voice in Congress because has control over the budget. He has created a lot of problems for Obama. Ryan is a puppet of Boehner, McCain and Cheney. That is why they forced Romney to accept Ryan as vice presidential candidate in the last minute.

  8. jose

    Ryan might be a problem for Romney because a lot of people in the country do not know him. Besides, his experience is limited to budget and has no experience on other issues.

  9. Gene Evans

    “In other words, liberal Democrats on average tend to embrace the popular democratic vision much more readily than conservative Republicans do.”

    An inaccurate and slanted end to an otherwise good article. Rather, the crucial difference is that liberal Democrats favor politicians who change whereas conservative Republicans favor changing politicians.

    Republicans tend to respect conviction and think changes in public opinion are better reflected by electing new people with different convictions. To them evolving in service to changes in public opinion looks a lot like saying whatever it takes to win.

    I really don’t see how America’s democratic vision is better served by careerists who value getting and keeping power over integrity. No politician is indispensable, whatever they may think.

  10. Fredric Dennis Williams

    While the argument made here is a plausible one, I’m not sure the reasoning is valid.

    First of all, the Republicans are a minority party, so winning every Republican vote won’t win the election.

    Second, pandering (once again) to the further-right elements of the Republican Party is unlikely to work very well. We don’t vote for a vice-president, we vote for a president. Unless we are convinced the president will die in office, the vice-president is a placeholder. He will have no effect on the country.

    Ryan will surrender the power of the Congress to sit in a house in D.C. and visit schoolchildren. In the 1931 musical “Of Thee I Sing,” Vice President Throttlebottom gets into the White House only by joining a tour group.

    Thus, the VP choice cannot provide significant help to the presidential candidate, but can be harmful. Sarah Palin is a good example. Ryan, too, offers an excellent target. He can be characterized as threatening older people with drastic Medicare cuts — and the elderly are a huge, heavily-subsidized block of voters who regularly show up at the polls. Ryan has taken very specific positions (something Obama is careful never to do), and thus gives many people reasons to vote against him.

    The claim that he is “smart” is vague enough to be acknowledged, but I see no evidence that he is smarter than other politicians. He has proposed a 50-year budget plan to a Congress that must pass a new budget every year, and is prevented from deciding for future Congresses. His “vision” has never been accepted by Congress. His dramatic change to Medicare is unlikely to ever be adopted — and would be ineffective if it were. Expenditures for government-subsidized elderly medical care will double from $500+billion to $1 trillion over the next decade. Ryan’s plan would save, in theory, only 3% of this amount . In practice is likely to add billions in costs to recipients as insurance companies are given a windfall business. It is a giant welfare program for insurance companies — as was “Obamacare” — and insurance companies finance elections.

    Ryan may have been chosen as a way to win Wisconsin, but as a resident of his district, I can say that is uncertain. Futhermore, Wisconsin has just 10 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win; it is below the average 10.6 electoral votes per state. George Bush didn’t win Wisconsin in 2000 or 2004, and Obama won by a big margin in 2008. So far, Ryan has succeeded in moving Wisconsin from leaning to Obama to toss-up. A VP-candidate from Ohio, Florida, or Virginia would have been more likely to benefit Romney — all are possible wins for a Republican candidate, all bring more electoral votes.

    What Ryan does bring to the ticket is substantial political skill. He is a lifelong politician, never held a real job and has 14 years in Congress after years before in D.C. working for politicians. He has won re-election by landslides (2:1) six times — in a district that is evenly split Democrat-Republican. He comes from money, but can relate to Wisconsin voters.

    In the end, the election will not be won by the hard-liners of either party. Ryan is as likely to stimulate the hard-liners of the Democrats as he is to stimulate the hard-liners of the Republicans, so his choice is a wash at best. The votes that are needed to win are those of the independents. The Ryan selection, I suspect, will have no significant effect on the independents, other than to get the elderly independents to vote their pocketbooks — against Romney/Ryan. If Ryan can change that dynamic, he might help.

    So, why did Romney choose as he did? I would guess that, just as McCain chose Palin, he went with someone he felt comfortable with. There is a saying that first-rate people choose first-rate people, and second-rate people choose third-rate people. I think it may not be that simple, but Romney comes from money and so does Ryan, he comes from a political family, and Ryan is a professional politician. Romney talks like business is everything, Ryan’s father and grandfather owned a construction company.

    There is one other way of looking at the decision — in context of other actions by Romney. He has been working to be the losing candidate, and is taking the necessary steps to hand the election to Obama, who would surely be defeated by anyone stronger. Thus, Romney picks another northern white conservative business guy — reminding us all that he is rich and distant from the middle class, alienating moderates, minorities, women, etc. When seen in the context of Romney’s many gaffes — his wife’s two Cadillacs, his foreign bank accounts, his refusal to reveal tax filings, his Olympic insult in the UK, his self-laudatory campaign ads — perhaps the Ryan choice was one more attempt to help Obama win.

    This view may seem improbable, but Kerry was so inept that one had to see Bush as a better choice, despite his proven incompetence. Gore had been equally dull. McCain, who graduated five steps above the bottom of a class of nearly 600, was easily beaten by Obama, despite Obama having no experience, no real qualifications, and no achievements (other than winning elections and speaking well — with a teleprompter).

    Thus, there are some who believe the system is being arranged so that people will make the “right” choice — balancing votes between the two parties so that neither loses out consistently, and neither can be blamed for the disastrous policies the US is saddled with.

  11. [...] To me, the only really important aspect of conventions nowadays is the behind-the-scenes negotiations that go into determining the party platforms. Granted that a presidential nominee isn’t bound by his party’s platform, the platforms are still significant as a statement of the party’s principles and governing intentions, and it says something about a presidential nominee if he chooses to stand behind them. Richard Nixon, when he was the GOP presidential choice in 1960, spent a lot of his political capital to persuade the platform committee to make the party’s civil rights plank more progressive. Will Barack Obama or Mitt Romney make any similar efforts to resist the ideological inclinations of their party bases? Stay tuned. Geoffrey Kabaservice is a columnist for The New Republic and a former assistant professor of history at Yale University. His most recent book is Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press, 2012). Red his previous blog post: “Newt Gingrich, Chameleon Politician.” Oxford University Press USA is putting together a series of articles on a political topic each week for four weeks as the United States discusses the upcoming American presidential election, and Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Last week our authors tackled the issue of money and politics. This week we turn to the role of political conventions and party conferences (as they’re called in the UK). Read the previous blog post in this series: “Romney needed to pick Ryan.” [...]

  12. [...] National Conventions. Our scholars previously tackled the issue of money and politics, the role of political conventions, and the role of media in politics. This week we turn to the role of [...]

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