Democrats seem nearly unanimous that Mitt Romney's pick of Paul Ryan to be his running mate is a good thing, since it will make winning substantially more difficult for Romney (Jamelle explains why here). I agree, and I continue to believe that the odds remain substantially in favor of Barack Obama winning re-election. But I thought I'd take the opportunity of an outbreak of hope on the left side of the aisle to offer a little vision of horror. As of Sunday morning, Paul Ryan may indeed be the person most likely to be, in the words of Romney's slip of the tongue, the next president of the United States.
The reason I say this is that while we don't yet know the conditions under which the 2016 presidential campaign will take place, the GOP will begin with a substantial advantage. Winning three consecutive presidential terms is very hard. It has only happened once since 1948, when George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis in 1988. No matter how well things are going, the public eventually gets around to giving the other side a chance.
And Paul Ryan just became the most likely 2016 Republican nominee. As you may know, Republicans tend to nominate the person who is "next in line." That usually means the guy who ran once before and came in second; that was the case with Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan (George W. Bush is the exception, but there really was no "next in line" in 2000, unless you count the spectacularly creepy Steve Forbes, and Bush was familiar to everyone in the party by virtue of his dad). But the primaries in 2016 could be fairly open. There may be some Republicans, presumably those who have recently had anvils fall on their heads, who believe that it would be a good idea to nominate Rick Santorum to be their standard-bearer. Barring that, the logical next in line is the party's VP nominee from four years before: Paul Ryan. Presuming that he acquits himself reasonably well, which he probably will (Ryan may be just as much of an extremist as Sarah Palin, but he's a much more skilled politician), the party's conservatives will blame a Romney loss on their nominee not being a "real" conservative, and become convinced that had the ticket been reversed they would have won.
And even if he fails the first time, Ryan is only 42. He's got plenty of time. Sorry if I just gave you nightmares.