The whispering over Mitt Romney’s choice of a running mate is getting louder, and along with it we are being treated to the sotto voce angst of the GOP establishment: Whatever else Mitt does, he wouldn’t dare pick Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, would he?
Too risky, goes the Beltway chorus. His selection would make Medicare and the House budget the issue, not the economy. The 42-year-old is too young, too wonky, too, you know, serious. Beneath it all you can hear the murmurs of the ultimate Washington insult—that Mr. Ryan is too dangerous because he thinks politics is about things that matter. That dude really believes in something, and we certainly can’t have that.
All of which highly recommend him for the job.
We have nothing against the other men Mr. Romney is said to be still closely considering. Tim Pawlenty twice won the governorship of Minnesota, the second time in the horrible GOP year of 2006. His working-class roots and middle American values would counter the stereotype of Mr. Romney as too rich and disconnected to average concerns. The media would say he’s another middle-aged white male, just like Mitt, but he’d certainly be a safe, mature choice.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman is well respected nearly everywhere for his thoughtful, disciplined brand of conservative politics. Like Mr. Pawlenty, he’s no orator, but he’s quick on his feet and a practiced debater who would carve up Joe Biden. His biggest liability is his association with the Bush Administration. Many voters still blame President Bush for our current economic troubles, and the Obama campaign would use Mr. Portman to reinforce its claim that Mr. Romney is Bush 2.0.
Marco Rubio would be a somewhat riskier choice given that he is new to the national scene and has less Washington experience. But he’s a tea party favorite who would energize the GOP base while also signaling Mr. Romney’s outreach to Hispanic voters. Mr. Rubio’s family history is one of escaping tyranny (Cuba) and poverty, and he speaks movingly about the American Dream.
The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline.
Against the advice of every Beltway bedwetter, he has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts. And he has done so as part of a larger vision that stresses tax reform for faster growth, spending restraint to prevent a Greek-like budget fate, and a Jack Kemp-like belief in opportunity for all. He represents the GOP’s new generation of reformers that includes such Governors as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.
As important, Mr. Ryan can make his case in a reasonable and unthreatening way. He doesn’t get mad, or at least he doesn’t show it. Like Reagan, he has a basic cheerfulness and Midwestern equanimity.