It certainly wasn't much of a surprise, given Mitt Romney's forward lunge toward the right. His selection of Paul Ryan was like letting the cat out of the cellophane bag. Only a staunch GOPer could see excitement in offering the vice presidency to a young fogy like Ryan. Like everything Romney's done, it is predictable, unimaginative and non-inspiring.
Suspicions abound that Romney was eager to avoid a Sarah Palin-style pick. Since 2012, it has become an article of faith that Palin was a disastrous pick. But that is only in hindsight. When the Alaska governor was introduced in Minneapolis, she electrified the convention and made gains among women. It was the stock market crash and John McClain's endorsement of bailouts that stopped his momentum, not Palin.
Romney decided to go with Ryan, whose strength is as a budget policy wonk, not as a definer of a cause.
Moreover, Ryan comes from the grim side of ultra-libertarianism. As a disciple of Ayn Rand, he once stated that her ideas led him into politics. Ryan is a grim advocate of austerity first. Like Romney, his contempt for the middle and lower classes comes out in every sentence. He is an ideologue's idealogue whose career has been only in government and not the problem-solving aspect.
His selection represents Romney's final rejection of anything approaching moderation. It was the equivalent of Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is not vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is not virtue" thrust in San Francisco in 1964. Moreover, his pick of Ryan, a representative from Wisconsin, mirrors Goldwater's pick of New York Congressman William Miller, who allegedly "drove Lyndon Johnson nuts." During the campaign, Miller skillfully divined the political tea leaves, playing bridge and poker with reporters and apparently did famously well.
Compare the pick to Ronald Reagan's selection of George H.W. Bush in 1980. Bush seemingly irreparably hurt his chances by denouncing Reagan's supply side ideas as "voodoo economics." Early on, Reagan's advisor almost made a boneheaded play by offering the second spot to Gerald Ford, which would have been awkward. Instead, he went toward Bush, making the shrewdest choice since JFK picked LBJ in 1960. Romney simply did what he hinted at all along, picked a hard-shell economic conservative as his running mate.
Romney also may have acted in haste. Obama received an Olympic boost in the polls and the boys in Boston perhaps could have panicked, feeling the need to pick a VEEP before the convention. It mirrors one of Reagan's largest mistakes in 1976, with the premature selection of Richard Schweiker, which proved embarrassing. It also ends any surprise at Tampa and allows critics to draw a bead on the candidate. Also, the timing was not too astute announcing on a weekend opposite the final Olympic games. The political mechanics did not deserve even a bronze for Romney's team.
For Obama, the selection of Ryan must have come as a relief. Had Romney picked Condoleezza Rice, there would have been consternation aplenty in Chicago. Now they could only check a box and write it off to Romney's predictability. Romney, whose political transformation from liberal moderate to right wing zealot, is not complete. His capitulation is so total that he can hardly recognize himself.
For Obama, as it was for Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, an opportunity exists to contrast two visions of America. Romney's winner-take-all philosophy is undergirded by Ryan's Randian notions of compassion versus a we-are-all-in-it-together approach. The future of civil society and the social contract may be at stake. The Ryan selection is a challenge to the social order established after World War II.