WASHINGTON, August 22, 2012 — Paul Ryan was one of the last candidates I thought Mitt Romney would choose as his running mate. The risk of a medicare fight was sure to make Ryan an honorable mention on the short list. Despite my surprise, as a Democrat I am concerned the Obama team may underestimate Paul Ryan.
Due in part to economic uncertainty, voters took a chance on Barack Obama in 2008. Although President Obama can argue the country would have been worse off without his actions in office, voters are still challenged by this economy. They may be willing to take a risk with Ryan when they wouldn’t at any other time.
As a candidate, Ryan is prepared and effective. He simply should not be underestimated. No matter how confident the Obama team is in the substance of its arguments against Ryan, they cannot afford to take him lightly.
When it comes to substance, saying Paul Ryan does his homework is an understatement. Agree with Ryan (and his ideas) or not, he knows the details and the big picture. He will anticipate every argument Democrats can make and he will be prepared to respond. The Obama team needs to be just as prepared.
In terms of style, Ryan is not the caricature fire-breathing conservative that is supposed to scare children and small animals. He won’t raise his voice like Chris Christie. Ryan will listen and he will calmly and respectfully respond.
In 1980, the Carter campaign painted Reagan as a dangerous extremist. What the American people saw was a cheerful, avuncular man, not the monster they had come to expect. Reagan was inoculated against the charge of extremism.
To be clear, I do not believe Paul Ryan is the political athlete Ronald Reagan was. But let’s not give him the opportunity to appear anywhere close to it.
It is not in Mitt Romney’s nature to make erratic decisions. His time at Bain Capital showed him to be a careful, methodical, quantitative thinker. Although I don’t quite understand this pick, Romney is too methodical to make a choice like this without gaming out all the options and consequences.
Romney certainly knew that Democrats would pounce on Ryan over Medicare. Could it be that Romney would rather have the scrutiny on his running mate so that it takes the target off of him and Bain? The Romney-Ryan ticket has already used questions about medicare to pivot and turn the conversation about Medicare into yet another discussion of the Affordable Healthcare Act. This is clearly part of an overall strategy.
The Ryan pick may have taken us by surprise, but we underestimate this ticket at our own peril. The Obama team cannot afford to take Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan lightly.
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