In case you missed it, the media has been abuzz over Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate for the November elections. Ryan, best known for his budget plan that would essentially do away with Medicare as we know it, is a favorite amongst the right wing and contrary to other’s opinions; he is not the next Sarah Palin.
Paul Ryan believes what he says and that’s great when you are an ideologue but rather scary when you don’t agree with what he says. Unlike some of his brethren on the right, Ryan is calculated, smooth, young and doesn’t really dip his toes into fights over social issues. He’s a pure wonk on policy issues and by choosing him Romney is making a calculated selection.
The media is focusing now on Paul Ryan, he’s being vetted and the conversation is shifting towards his career in Congress with special emphasis on the “Path to Prosperity” budget plan. The budget plan is now the most important issue of the Romney campaign as opposed to issues such as Mitt Romney’s taxes or Harry Reid’s source. Of course, the Romney campaign is hedging their bets that journalists won’t be asking him questions on those topics or at least, he has an alibi for not addressing those questions. All Romney has to say is “I’m focused on the real issues of real Americans” or some canned line similar to that; and Ryan can take the mic from there.
Now, another point we have to make is that while the Ryan pick looks like it’s paying dividends for Mitt Romney already; it likely won’t make too big of a difference come November. I’m not understating Ryan’s abilities to be an effective running mate but rather trying not to overstate the effect that a vice presidential pick can have. Outside of an initial polling bounce and a spike in donations, it’s really hard for a VP to make a positive impact on the race. Really you are more likely to find a running mate who hurts your candidacy as opposed to one who instantly helps you. Let’s take a quick look back to see who Paul Ryan is joining in history.
1960: John F. Kennedy selects Lyndon B. Johnson
To many, this is the quintessential pick, the one that gets mentioned the most when it comes to beneficial running mate selections. When JFK looked to be on the verge of securing the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1960, a group of Senators allegedly formed a “Stop-Kennedy” coalition to stop the young, Northern senator who had the momentum and money behind him. But as history tells us, they were unsuccessful in their efforts as JFK cruised to the nomination.
Kennedy knew he needed a strong Southern presence to convince Southern Dixiecrats to vote for him in spite of Kennedy’s moderate-to-liberal stances on race issues, war and his Catholicism and thus chose the Majority Leader from Texas in Johnson. Other theories of Johnson’s selection have been kicked around but regardless of Kennedy’s intention; the South voted Democrat for one of the last times in history.
Johnson may have been an adversary to JFK but it is one of the few VP selections that actually benefited the top of the ticket geographically.
1968: Richard Nixon selects Spiro Agnew
It’s hard to believe that there was a time before Watergate and the other various scandals of the Nixon White House, in which a Richard Nixon – Spiro Agnew ticket was actually attractive.
Yet when Nixon was making his political comeback after his infamous “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” concession speech following his loss to Pat Brown in the 1962 California gubernatorial race; he had to be careful in who he selected. In 1968 the top issues were the on-going Vietnam War and the race riots that were taking place across the country.
Nixon shocked a few people when he selected the Maryland Governor ahead of other candidates such as George Romney. Agnew wasn’t a nationally known figure but some theories have been bundled about. The one that holds the most water though would be that Agnew was more of a moderate who would appeal to both non-Deep South southerners and Northerners as well. Agnew was also one who was OK with confrontation and was more than willing to be an “attack dog” on the campaign.
1972: George McGovern Picks Thomas Eagleton…..Then Sargent Shriver
Here’s an example on how the bottom of the ticket can totally destroy the top of it. George McGovern was maybe the most liberal nominee of the Democratic Party in modern history and party insiders were fearing he would be unable to connect to any other demographic.
So McGovern picked Thomas Eagleton, a Catholic pro-life senator from Missouri as his running mate after party stalwart Ted Kennedy turned down appearing on the ticket. The pick itself was interesting as Eagleton was an up-and-comer and not to particularly well-known nationally.
Then the McGovern campaign found out that Eagleton was clinically depressed and had received electro-shock therapy as a result of his depression. The McGovern campaign was essentially, screwed.
So after more consultations with Eagleton’s doctors regarding his mental health, McGovern forced Eagleton into resignation and instead chose former ambassador Sargent Shriver, a brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy, as his running mate. But the damage was done already, as questions sprouted up over McGovern’s decision-making abilities.
1988: George H.W. Bush selects Dan Quayle
In the years beforehand, we saw a moderate (Jimmy Carter) pick a liberal (Walter Mondale) and a conservative icon (Ronald Reagan) pick an establishment moderate (George H.W. Bush) to bolster the party line.
In 1988, former Vice President H.W. Bush selected an unknown younger Senator from Indiana by the name of Dan Quayle. Quayle’s selection was the initial “game-changer” that we would see in 2008. But Quayle was clearly not ready for primetime, nor did it seem that he would be ever, as he was seen as entitled, harmful to the ticket and party as well as not being the brightest bulb out there.
The harm that Quayle did to the ticket though, was not enough to see Michael Dukakis become President of the United States. But it did make a huge difference in how candidates are vetted, or at least so we thought.
2008: John McCain selects Sarah Palin
The pick that was so controversial and disastrous that it inspired a best-selling book and an Emmy-nominated made-for-TV movie.
Yes, John McCain picking Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate made the phrase “game change” enter the political lexicon as an example of what not to do. Palin made Dan Quayle look like Barack Obama in terms of being “cool under center” in front of a camera.
But let’s not forget what Palin did. When all is said and done, she might be best remembered for being a failed vice presidential nominee but she might’ve woken up the disillusioned social conservative bastion of the Republican Party. She clearly was the favored candidate of the religious right, but she definitely did more harm than good to the McCain’s team electoral chances. In fact, this decision might go down in history as the most politically-toxic choice of our generation.
2012: Mitt Romney selects Paul Ryan
What will history teach us then about the selection of Paul Ryan? Will he become too big for the ticket, much like Palin or will he be a great attack dog a la Agnew? Will he swing Wisconsin to Republicans like Johnson did Texas or will he make no difference at all like John Edwards did for North Carolina?
The pages are being written as I type this blog piece. We will know sooner rather than later.