Americans may not know Mitt Romney yet, but they do know a little more about two impressive people he has chosen to team up with at pivotal moments in his life – Ann Romney and Paul Ryan. One has been his life partner, the other will be his political partner through the 2012 campaign and, if things go well for Republicans, his partner in governing.
Ann Romney’s speech to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night was a huge hit. The candidate’s wife went a long way to connect with female voters who have had serious doubts about putting her husband in the White House. She also came up with a very strong line that is likely to be heard again in the campaign: “This man will not fail.”
That simple assertion sets up a comparison between a man who can claim success as an executive and a president who even some Democrats feel has not lived up to the hopes he inspired in 2008. If Republicans can back away from the wild talk of Obama as an America-hating socialist and focus on portraying Obama’s presidency as a botched effort, quite a few undecided voters could be tipped toward the man who Ann Romney guarantees will have success.
Wednesday night brought evidence that Romney did not fail in his search for the right running mate. In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for vice president, Paul Ryan fulfilled the dreams of conservatives longing for a fresh, forceful voice. Just like four years ago when Sarah Palin’s convention performance made more than a few delegates wish she was topping the ticket instead of John McCain, there were likely a sizeable number of delegates in the hall in Tampa, Fla., who would be happy to bump Romney off the top spot and replace him with Ryan.
Ryan, though, is clearly more than just an effective rabble-rouser for the right wing. Unlike Palin, who quickly displayed an alarming lack of intellect and basic knowledge, Ryan showed rhetorical skill, command of information and aggressive intelligence. Joe Biden will have his hands full when the two debate.
Ryan confronted his biggest vulnerability – his proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system – and went on the attack. He claimed it is actually Obama who is out to wreck the healthcare entitlement. This is a classic the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense tactic and he does it so well that it just might work. Many voters will fail to parse his words to find his argument is built on misleading contentions.
Unlike speakers who preceded him – the dreadful Tim Pawlenty in particular – Ryan avoided lame jokes and wheezing conservative bromides. He gave new life to well-worn anti-government tropes. He was even bold enough to emphasize his own youth by poking fun at the out-of-date “elevator music” that Romney keeps on his iPod. His own song list starts with AC/DC and ends with Zepplin, Ryan said. That play list itself seems a bit dated for the nation’s first Gen-X nominee, but it is still more edgy than the Donny Osmond hits that Romney may favor.
Democrats were giddy on the day Romney announced he was picking Ryan as his running mate. They thought he was a perfect target – a Medicare-killing, anti-abortion zealot who would scare off moderate swing voters and old people. Maybe the Obama campaign will succeed in painting that image of Ryan, but it will be a tougher job than they expect. In his big speech, Ryan delivered the most effective assault on the Obama administration's record that I have witnessed during the entire 2012 campaign.
Ann Romney and Paul Ryan showed themselves to be Mitt Romney’s most compelling advocates. If there is a downside, it is that either one of them could easily upstage the man at the top of the ticket.