Well, I guess it depends on the alternative. I agree that Romney would be better off with a positive, reformist message. One of the reasons that the campaign has revolved so much around the latest Obama smears is that there is a hole where Romney’s positive message should be. So we have the Obama camp accusing Romney of killing the wives of steelworkers and the Romney camp saying that Obama is trying to distract from the lousy economy. Well, pretty much everyone already knows the economy is lousy. There is no distracting anybody from that. The more relevant question is whether Romney and Romney policies are an acceptable alternative. A real Romney message would make the Obama attacks look small, but Romney’s clichés about “free enterprise of markets against the European socialism of Obama” just don’t fill the message gap.
Picking Ryan and refocusing the campaign’s attention on the general policy reforms in the Ryan budget (especially premium support Medicare) would certainly fill the message gap. But I’m not sure that picking Ryan is the only (or the best) way to go about it. I think Virginia governor Bob McDonnell or Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal would be better choices for a more reformist-oriented campaign for the following reasons:
1. They can defend particular reformist ideas without having to defend the specifics of past proposals. There is a lot to be said for the Romney approach to Medicare reform. There is no good reason why McDonnell or Jindal couldn’t defend the proposal 90% as well as Ryan while not having to answer for the deeper Medicare cuts in Ryan’s first budget or the seeming middle-class tax increase in Ryan’s Roadmap. Premium support Medicare is complicated and scary enough without having the public trying to figure out if they are hearing about Romney’s premium support plan or Ryan’s first premium support plan or his second plan or who-knows-what.
2. McDonnell and Jindal are spending cutting, budget balancing, executives who maintained core government services. They are walking advertisements that limited government can be effective government. They can plausibly say that they cut spending and things turned out okay while Obama has produced trillion dollar deficits, spread government money around to cronies. Which result sounds better to you?
3. Kate is right that any VP candidate is going to have weaknesses. But which weaknesses would hurt Romney more? The most obvious line of attack against McDonnell is abortion and the Virginia fetal ultrasound bill. What does it tell us if someone switches from Romney to Obama because they hate Virginia’s noninvasive fetal ultrasound bill in order to vote for the guy who supports partial birth abortion? It either tells us that the Romney campaign badly bungled the explanation for McDonnell’s position and the counterattack, or it tells us that the voter was always going to vote Democrat. We already have a party for radical pro-abortion voters, and it isn’t the one Romney is a member of. What kind of voter switches because they fear that the original Ryan Medicare plan cut Medicare more deeply than President Obama’s, and that Ryan’s earlier plan seemed to combine a tax cut on high earners with a middle-class tax increase? That seems to me to be harder to talk your way out of.
This all depends on the idea that Romney wants to get away from the hollow “positive” message that he has been running on since Iowa. I want that, but I’m not sure Romney wants that. The worst thing Romney can do is pick a candidate who best fits a reformist campaign and try to fit him (or her) into the Romney campaign we have seen so far. That gives you the worst of both worlds. If Romney just want someone to regurgitate the talking points that Romney’s consultants come up with, then they should pick Tim Pawlenty.