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Paul Ryan has become the GOP’s go-to-guy on the federal budget, offering one of the few realistic visions for whittling down America’s massive debt. He is cool under fire, beloved by the Tea Party, and hails from Wisconsin, another swing state. He is also charismatic, which may explain why a poll taken by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that of nearly three dozen potential VP candidates tested in 15 states since mid-May, “none helps Romney improve his position better in the potential running mate’s home state than Ryan in Wisconsin,” according to the Daily Caller. Of the three frontrunners, he is by far the “boldest” potentially game-changing pick Romney could make.
The principle knock on Ryan is that his signature budget plan, which includes reforms to Medicare, is an attack-dog whistle to Democrats. As such, they would undoubtedly reprise the “granny over the cliff” ads they used to kill his budget proposals last year. He is also young, and decided on his own not to run for the top slot this time around, making the idea that he could assume the presidency right away problematic. And the same charisma that helps him may also be a negative, as it would be relatively easy for him to outshine Romney.
Two more candidates merit scrutiny. One is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal is a solid conservative, and he would be the first Indian-American on a national ticket. He is also charismatic, and has implemented much-needed education reform in his home state. Yet Louisiana’s budget remains on shaky ground, despite his efforts to reform it. Furthermore, he has seemingly taken himself out of the race, telling a gathering of conservatives in Florida last weekend that Romney would send a “powerful message” regarding budgetary issues if he nominated Ryan.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is one of the true stars in a Republican party where stars are in short supply. His take-no-prisoners attitude with the media and his matter-of-fact way of speaking energizes many conservatives. Thus, he would stand in stark contrast to Romney’s blandness. Yet like Ryan, Christie also took a pass on running for president saying he wasn’t ready, and the same brashness that endears him to many could prove to be a liability in a tight race with a mainstream media looking to magnify any mistake on the Republican side of the ledger. Furthermore, as noted here and here, Christie has a blind spot regarding Islamic radicalism.
Other candidates seemingly out of the race include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose charisma, Latino background, and Florida swing state potential may be offset by his lack of experience; General David Petraeus, whose national security credentials are offset by his stated lack of political ambition; and Condoleeza Rice whose popularity, charisma, experience, along with her race and gender, may be offset by her tenure in the Bush administration. Moreover, Rice has also said she’s not interested in the job.
All of the people here, to varying degrees represent viable choices for the VP slot. If there is something that would pull the Romney camp in one direction or the other, it may boil down to a few overall considerations. Does Romney believe he needs an injection of charisma into his campaign or not? Would he prefer someone better suited to help him win the election, or someone more suited to the duties of the office once the election is won? Does he embrace Tea Party conservatism, or is he more comfortable with the GOP establishment?
Right now the campaign is getting a lot of mileage out of the process itself. Ironically, that says something as well: if excitement must be generated by speculation over a vice presidential candidate, what does that say about the presidential candidate? If genuine buzz is to be generated between now and November, it is Mr. Romney himself who must eventually rise to the occasion.
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