As Mitt Romney wrapped up his speech Saturday morning, he told the crowd gathered in front of the USS Wisconsin he wanted to introduce “the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan.” It was a gaffe, certainly—one that Mitt made endearing when he jogged back out to correct himself moments later—but it was one that channeled the secret hopes of the Republican base.
Back in the winter and spring, when we were slogging through a painful primary composed of an embarrassingly bad crop of candidates, Romney was clearly the best option, even if he wasn’t easy to get excited about. But that’s only because Ryan had not entered the race.
Ryan set conservative hearts like mine afire when he released a budget plan in 2010 that would have cut spending, cut taxes, simplified the tax code and made drastic and controversial changes to Medicare and Medicaid. It wasn’t perfect, and it had no chance in the Senate, but at least it was an idea, something that could have started a conversation in Congress if John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid weren’t more interested in picking fights and pointing fingers.
When the Drudge Report, after teasing us for weeks with unlikely vice presidential candidates like Condoleezza Rice and David Petraeus, posted a list of supposed finalists that included Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Chris Christie, Ryan, and Marco Rubio, all I could think was “Let it be Ryan, let it be Ryan, let it be Ryan.” Pawlenty and Portman are just too boring (which is the wrong kind of thing to have in common with your running mate) and Christie reminds me too much of Palin: rough around the edges and not serious enough.
Romney described Ryan as an “intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” which is an admittedly low bar, but it is enough to make Ryan the anti-Palin. He manages to bring both gravity—he’s dead-serious about fixing both the economy and the budget—and excitement to the ticket.
There was no doubt that Ryan would bring reluctant conservatives into the fold, and indeed, a man sitting behind the podium held up a sign reading “Tea Party Member for Romney.” It might be wishful thinking, but I’m also hopeful that Ryan will rally young voters. There was a story in the New York Times this week about how social conservatives are “deliberately playing down their own views on issues as a tactical move to attract more young voters to the Republican Party” since young voters, even Republicans, are more likely to support gay marriage and abortion. Ryan’s voting record definitely makes him a social conservative, but he also acts like he has no time for social issues because the economy is a more pressing matter. It was a relief to watch him get through his speech without any nod to “family values” or other euphemistic shout-outs to social conservatives.
Romney was wrong, of course, to call Ryan the next president of the United States. But here’s hoping that Ryan might be the next next president.