Let’s say Mitt Romney hopes to enact economic policies that are consistent with the House GOP economic vision. If so, having Paul Ryan as his vice president would be useful.
Ryan is the principal architect of that vision, such as it is, and one of its most effective spokespeople. The fight over anything resembling the Ryan budget is sure to be vicious; Ryan is good at putting the least-scary face one can on the Republican side of that debate.
Now let’s say Romney wants to enact economic policies that go against the preferences of the House GOP -- that is, he has a Secret Economic Plan. If so, having Ryan as his vice president becomes even more useful.
As Secret Economic Plan skeptics routinely point out, conservatives are never fully going to trust Romney. If he comes to them with, say, economist Glenn Hubbard’s proposal to throw about a hundred billion taxpayer dollars at restructuring underwater home mortgages, they’re likely to resist.
But what if Vice President Paul Ryan makes the pitch? Won’t House Republicans be much more likely to conclude that mortgage bailouts actually are conservative?
I’m not suggesting that Ryan is going to throw conservatism entirely under the bus. Romney surely wants to do some things that Republicans in Congress will love and others they will be resistant to -- only part of his economic plan is secret. So both sides of Ryan’s skill set will come into play.
And there’s good reason to expect ideological flexibility from Ryan. First of all, he’s a team player, and he’ll be working for Romney. Ryan also has been willing to buck conservative orthodoxy in the past for political advantage. He backed the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which George W. Bush saw as essential to his re-election. He voted for the auto bailouts. He even supports the Davis-Bacon Act, which inflates wages on federally funded construction projects, to make nice with construction unions.
So don’t call the Ryan pick the death of Romney’s Secret Economic Plan. The secret plan requires a vice president who not only has endless credibility with conservatives but who is seen as a leader on economic policy. That is, it requires Paul Ryan. That Romney chose Ryan despite the enormous electoral risk he brings provides strong evidence that the Secret Economic Plan is real.
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