The choice of Ryan shows that the Romney campaign believed that it needed a game-changer: something that the growing narrative about Mitt (insensitive, out-of-touch with average people, vague in his alleged ideas, ready to turn 360 degrees at a moment's notice) needed to be changed, and now. In that, at least, I agree with the Republicans.
Yet Ryan seems to me to be just about the worst pick that Romney could make. Put it this way: He would have a better chance of winning with Sarah Palin on his ticket.
It's true that Ryan's candidacy will lead to new discussions, but they are unlikely to help Romney's candidacy. Much, much more probable that Ryan's nomination to be--as we are endlessly reminded--a heartbeat away from the presidency will cement the view of independent voters that the Republican Party is so far out of the mainstream that it does not bear serious consideration. Or as this page has put it in the past, that the Republicans are on the road to irrelevance.
As one commentator on NPR put it this morning, presidential candidates normally begin on the left or right and then move to the center after locking up the nomination. Mitt Romney has done the opposite: in the nominating process he was the moderate, warning against the dangers of right-wing extremism (though he did not put it in those terms). Since becoming the presumptive nominee, however, he has tacked toward the conservative wing of his party. For a while, as his poll numbers stayed close to the President's, that strategy seemed justifiable. As a gap began to show between them, however, Romney chose to double-down--to shore up support among those who already had nowhere to go. It's true that he may get more enthusiastic support from some of them now, but so what? More enthusiasm among a distinct minority of American voters will elect a president only if (a) the candidate can also carry a substantial proportion of independents and even some members of the other party or (b) the nation is so apathetic that a minority of fanatical supporters can outweigh the rest of those who will go to the polls. The first is not true with Paul Ryan on the ticket, and although voter participation in our elections is woeful by the standards of other developed democracies, we're not so distanced from our politics that the Republican right wing can elect a president by itself.
Paul Ryan's personal story, while perfectly fine for a candidate, is not as affecting as President Obama's or Vice-President Biden's (his father was a lawyer who died when Mr. Ryan was 16; he worked selling for Oscar Meyer as a young man--apparently, he even drove the Weinermobile; he's spent a long time inside the beltway). To judge from his speech in Norfolk yesterday (admittedly the only time this writer has heard him in more than a sound bite), his orator will not inspire. And his ideas are way out there. (Indeed, it is a measure of how far to the right our politics have moved that he is not considered a yahoo.) If his place on the ticket proves to be a game-changer, it's not likely to be in favor of the Republicans.
Normally, teams save the hail Mary for the end of the game. The Romney campaign has thrown one before the fall campaign has really begun.