One of the first posts on A Slice of Polis, dated August 30, 2008, commented on the pick of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP running mate against the Obama-Biden ticket (Obama had selected Biden about 1 week before) and immediately stole the spotlight from the media show that was Barack Obama for President (I will ignore for now the post recommending that McCain pick Kay Bailey Hutchison by my colleague). The pick fired up the conservative base, consolidating it behind a less than exciting candidate. Palin has been the subject of so many left wing media jokes about foreign policy, Alaska, Momma grizzly bears, and her song Trig, that what was lost in the pick was the risk McCain took. He pick a nobody, with zero experience (granted a bit more than then Senator Obama), as a lightning rod.
Ultimately the pick did not work, though I believe this had more to do with the economy slipping into recession than McCain, Palin, or then Senator Obama. Obama running on hope and change coincided very nicely with the economic downturn, just as FDR’s election 76 years earlier fed off of Herbert Hoover’s atrocious economic decisions and the Fed’s incompetent handling of the beginnings of the Great Depression, propelling him to an election less about him and more about him not being the other guy.
This brings me right into Romney’s decision to select Paul Ryan as his running mate. There will be speculation about why Romney made this selection. I think it shows us a couple of things about Romney. First, he is focused on the economy and the conservative vision of how the government interacts with it. Second, he wants the economy to be the story, and a Ryan pick should steer the conversation in that direction. Third, Romney wants the debate to be about policy this cycle, rather than popularity. “likability” (which is a dumb polling metric), and good looks. Need-to-dos rather than want-to-dos. Economic growth rather than government growth. A friend of mine sent me a text this morning and said he has heard more substantive policy discussion this morning (it is 8:19am CST as I write this sentence) than we’ve heard for months, including in the Republican Presidential Primaries. For that I rejoice. Fourth, Romney wants this election to be about Obama’s record. Fifth, Romney thinks he can make Obama’s record, particularly on the economy and probably to a lesser degree on his policy of government expansion, the story of the election.
Sixth, Romney thinks he can win the messaging war. I will conclude with this point because it is why Romney chose Paul Ryan. If Romney did not believe he could win a war of messaging (this includes, in my definition, both positive messaging about your campaign/candidate, and negative messaging about your opponent) and a war of ideas he would have picked a personality firebrand like Chris Christie or rising star like Marco Rubio (I do believe Rubio would have been an incredible pick. His time is coming.). I believe this is a good thing for the country and the election as a whole. Political theater requires crazy attacks and stupid stuff to be said by nutcases in order to maintain some semblance of spotlight in between messaging cycles, but the craziness needs to be sandwiched between legitimate and productive discussion of ideas. Romney is telling Obama he is going to have a conversation about ideas in this election.
If President Obama agrees to discuss ideas or responds with continued slandering and negative attacks remains to be seen. Strap on your seat belts and please dress responsibly. There will be plenty of mud thrown around until November and everyone is going to get hit.