Former Vice President Dick Cheney caused a stir when, in an interview with ABC News’s Jonathan Karl, he said that John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin was a “mistake.” Reading the entire exchange, I think it’s pretty clear Cheney did not intend to denigrate Palin. And I think he’d probably agree that John McCain didn’t lose because of Sarah Palin — he lost because of John McCain.
But I think Cheney’s point – though he is too modest to put it this way – is that Romney needs to pick someone like Dick Cheney. George W. Bush didn’t put Cheney on the ticket to win Wyoming’s 3 electoral votes. He picked him because he was A) a strong conservative, and B) someone who was ready to step into the Oval Office from Day One.
That is precisely what Mitt Romney needs: someone who, like Cheney, is seen by conservatives as one of their own, and, like Cheney, will be taken seriously from the get-go as a potential president of the United States.
This is particularly important in 2012, because President Obama knows that millions of Americans are ready to make a change, and has thus settled on a strategy of tearing down Mitt Romney and painting him as an unacceptable alternative. Romney clearly does not want to help Obama feed that narrative. So he will likely pick someone who is not “risky” – who will be immediately seen as a credible occupant of the Oval Office.
But Romney also must shore up his right flank, and generate enthusiasm for his ticket that is currently lacking with the GOP’s conservative base. He needs a pick who will give conservatives a reason to vote for the Romney ticket and not just against Obama-Biden.
So the question for him becomes, is there anyone among the current vice presidential contenders who can meet both tests?
One obvious choice here is Paul Ryan. Ryan is serious, substantive – wonky, even – and is clearly ready for the presidency. Importantly, insiders report that Romney likes him, feels comfortable campaigning with him, and considers him a “safe” pick — in the sense that he would be taken seriously as a potential president.
But Ryan would also electrify the conservative grassroots. Conservatives love him for his courage in presenting bold solutions to our nation’s fiscal problems. They bonded with him when he came under withering attack from the left for doing so, and were impressed with his eloquence in defending his ideas on the national stage. They have seen him go head-to-head with President Obama and win.
No doubt Obama would attack a Romney-Ryan ticket over the Ryan plan. But Romney has already endorsed the Ryan plan – so those attacks are coming anyway. It could not hurt to have the Ryan plan’s most knowledgeable and skilled defender on the ticket to return fire.
There are certainly other outstanding picks Romney could make. But if Romney decides to pick someone in the mold of Dick Cheney – someone that combines Cheney’s gravitas with Cheney’s conservative credibility – he could not go wrong with Paul Ryan.