Although Paul Ryan has only been on the Republican presidential ticket for two days, the punditocracy's opinions on how he will influence the race this fall have already solidified. Republicans think he is the saving grace of a candidate wounded by chronic awkwardness, a schizophrenic policy history, and, well, just being filthy rich. Democrats, meanwhile, have been chortling non-stop for the past 48 hours, relishing the chance to tell all those elderly swing voters in Florida about Ryan's evil plot to dismantle Medicare.
However, Democrats' entrenched evaluations fail to include an essential variable in the equation of how the Wisconsin representative will play with voters: however strident his policy proposals, you can't fault the packaging. When Paul Ryan was a young twenty-something working at the conservative think tank Empower America, Jack Kemp taught him that conservative talking points could be "delivered with a smile" instead of apocalyptic threats, and Paul Ryan is a master at delivering doomsday with a wink of his baby blues and a cherry on top. This radical vice-presidential pick, already written off by many Democrats and pundits, has been on his best behavior on the trail too. Sticking mostly to stock speeches lifted from the political ether instead of delving into the nuts and bolts of the Ryan plan, sharing his biography with his so gosh-darn cute kids waving in the foreground, being bromantic with his new running mate—if Henry Fonda's Abe Lincoln had been scripted by a born-again Tea Party Aaron Sorkin, he'd have no choice but to cast the Paul Ryan we've seen on the stump the past few days.
And it's working so far. Voters—if they even know who he is yet—aren't quite sold on Ryan (See Poll of the Day), but they are mesmerized by the presentation. On the day of the announcement, most Paul Ryan searches on Google were coupled unsurprisingly by the word "vice president." In second-place, though? "Shirtless." "Budget" doesn't even make the podium, coming in fourth place. News outlets across the board can't mention his policies without a brief nod to his charisma and handsomeness. Even those who deeply disagree with his policies concede his political gifts. Are these superficial things to consider? To be sure, but their absence has plagued Mitt Romney's campaign this far, and have been an unquestionable boon to Barack Obama's entire political career. As Priorities USA and the Obama campaign train their fire on Ryan's radical policy proposals (which are also, especially now, Romney's), the candidate's charms will fade. But we're only two days into an election metamorphosed from its previously anemic state into a truly consequential high stakes stand-off between economic visions. It's foolish to assume a "shiny object" vice-presidential pick is going to get Romney the gold, but it would be equally misguided to shrug-off the potential of a Romney/Ryan ticket this early in the game.
So They Say
"It’s gotten downright weird in the last couple of days. There’s a lot of attention all of the sudden to the fact that the congressman has used P90x ... I had a sense there would be some attention to it, but I’m actually blown away by how many people want to talk to me.”
—Tony Horton, the founder of the P90x exercise regimen popularized by new vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, on how Saturday's news has been a big boon.
Daily Meme: Between Paul Ryan and a Hard Place
- With the nomination of Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket, Mitt Romney has made it clear that the controversial Ryan plan is to be a major part of his platform. However, some of his fellow partiers stuck in tight congressional races aren't quite so excited to embrace the bill.
- In April, many GOP representatives remained mum when asked about their support for the Ryan plan, terrified that announcing either a yes or no answer would condemn them for all eternity.
- In June, Representative Denny Rehberg—currently running against incumbent Jon Tester in a high-profile Montana Senate race—ran a $200,000 ad funded by the Montana Republican Party shouting his opposition to the Ryan budget.
- As Chuck Todd said on Saturday, “I bet Denny Rehberg woke up with a big headache this morning."
- Connie Mack, a Florida congressman who is, like Rehberg, trying to graduate to the Senate, called the Ryan plan "a joke" in April.
- Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, joined the above Republicans in voting against the Ryan plan—after voting for it twice before—a move that will keep voters guessing as to his real position.
- Back-stepping on her support for the Medicare portion of the Ryan plan came too late for Jane Corwin in the special congressional election in NY-26, seen as "the first referendum on the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan."
- And in perhaps the most famous instance of Republican Paul Ryan bashing, Newt Gingrich called the Ryan plan "right-wing social engineering," last year—although now he counts himself, at least publicly, as a member of the Romney/Ryan choir.
What We're Writing
- Jamelle Bouie rounds up the five things you should know about Ryan's vision for the country.
- Scott Lemieux explains that the Ryan pick means that Romney is running on a 19th-century fiscal and social platform.
What We're Reading
- Jonathan Chait applauds Mitt Romney's "intellectual confidence [in sampling] the forbidden fruits of the liberal scholarly elite" but not his apparent lack of comprehension.
- Democrats are still struggling to raise money for their national convention, given unions' complete disinterest at funding a shindig in a city sans unionized hotels.
- Republicans know Sarah Palin, and Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin.
- Speaking of Sarah, who were the other craziest vice-presidential picks of all time?
- Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have spent more than all the super PACs combined.
- Where does the battle against Citizens United currently stand?
- And what would 19th-century author Henry Adams think of the decision?
- Bill Keller on the other conservative politicians who would have Romney's ear if he won the White House.
- Drew Magary lists the greatest Ryans of all time, including Meg, Jack, and Private.
Poll of the Day
Although conservatives are swooning over Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick, Americans' first reaction isn't quite so ebullient. A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 42 percent of Americans think Paul Ryan is a "fair" or "poor" choice, while 39 percent think he is an "excellent" or "pretty good" pick for the ticket. However, the Wisconsin represenative is an unknown quantity for most of the electorate; those mixed opinions are likely to swing one way or the other as Ryan becomes a familiar face on the trail.