Paul Ryan veep prospects split GOP

August 8, 2012

As Mitt Romney’s vice presidential selection nears and buzz about Rep. Paul Ryan’s prospects builds, a split is emerging among Republicans about whether the choice of the House Budget chairman and architect of the party’s controversial tax and spending plan would be a daring plus for the ticket or a miscalculation that would turn a close election into a referendum on Medicare.

Ryan advocates, including some of his colleagues and high-profile conservative elites, believe Romney will lose if he doesn’t make a more assertive case for his candidacy and that selecting the 42-year-old wonky golden boy would sound a clarion call to the electorate about the sort of reforms the presumptive GOP nominee wants to bring to Washington. Call them the “go bold” crowd.

Their opposites, pragmatic-minded Republican strategists and elected officials, believe that to select Ryan is to hand President Barack Obama’s campaign a twin-edged blade, letting the incumbent slash Romney on the Wisconsin congressman’s Medicare proposal and carve in the challenger a scarlet “C” for the unpopular Congress. This is the cautious corner.

Romney and his high command have kept a close hold on the vice presidential selection process, but sources familiar with the candidate’s thinking say Ryan remains under consideration. The two men, both consumers of weighty tomes and papers, have bonded over policy and developed an easy professional rapport this year. Ryan told colleagues in Washington last week, before the House escaped for a monthlong recess, that he hadn’t spoken with top Romney aides in about a month though he had submitted paperwork for vice presidential vetting, according to a source close to the Budget chair.

The intraparty debate over who Romney should select as his running mate is not just the stuff of Capitol Hill Club parlor games. It’s a stand-in for a broader argument among Republicans about what sort of campaign Romney ought to be running. As the clock ticks toward Election Day — now less than 100 days away — a growing chorus of Republicans is urging the former Massachusetts governor to take some risks, to do something more than run a one-note campaign based on voters’ disappointment in Obama. To tap Ryan, this thinking goes, would be to ensure a choice election and offer Romney the prospect of a mandate for a conservative reform agenda.

“It would excite some people who right now are there for Romney because they’re opposed to another four years of Obama, not because they’re excited about a Romney presidency,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who serves with Ryan on the budget panel.

Cole, a political operative before entering public office, said Romney picking Ryan would be akin to Ronald Reagan in 1980 selecting Jack Kemp, then a young, up-and-coming conservative congressman, rather than George H.W. Bush.

“Reagan picked up and ran on Kemp-Roth,” said Cole, referring to the tax-cut proposal that encapsulated conservative thinking of the time. “And a lot of people thought that was a dangerous and radical idea.”

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