Opinion: With Ryan pick, a new Romney

In choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney not only surprised the political world late Friday night, but he has become a different candidate for president over night. 

He is suddenly someone willing to take a risk, someone offering specifics instead of generalities, and someone willing to sell his own agenda to the voters instead of trying to bash his way into the Oval Office. And by embracing Ryan, and the controversial policy heft he brings to the ticket, Romney is now a serious candidate who has displayed true leadership — the willingness to do something politically dangerous because he believes it is the right thing to do.

Until now Romney was running a non-campaign on the hope that voters were simply ready, in such a troubled economy, to fire Obama. Polls this week showing Obama ahead in several battleground states and making headway with independent voters proved that strategy wasn't working. 

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Romney has muddled through the months since the primary, allowing Democrats and Team Obama to define him early as a "vulture capitalist" who won't release his tax returns, parks money overseas and couldn't have cared less about the companies Bain Capital loaded up with debt and sold while leaving workers without pension, healthcare or their homes. Romney's negatives have grown with each attack to historic numbers, the kind that don't get you elected.

Polls also show that the only undecided voters left — and there are not a lot of them — are the most disgusted with the campaign thus far and the least interested in voting. They know all they need to about Obama, and Romney now has less than three months to sell himself to them and tip the election his way with a running mate and message that provides a stark contrast to Obama and Vice President Biden.

Ryan is as appealing and convincing a messenger as Romney could find to campaign on the urgent need for austerity and fiscal rescue. Democrats are swooning at the prospect of attacking his Medicare overhaul once more, arguing his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program will devastate the safety net for seniors. 

But Ryan is articulate, affable, and spin-free, which is why despite his lightning-rod policies, he has been reelected handily in his swing district so many times. Ryan isn't interested in just attacking Obama's policies, though he certainly will do so in his effective, friendly fashion. He refuses to demagogue or dodge the debate. 

"If you're going to criticize then you should propose," Ryan told The New Yorker a few weeks ago. "People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, 'just criticize and don't do anything, and let's win by default.' That's ridiculous."

Romney has shown now he doesn't plan to try and win by default. He has chosen the best person, likely the only person, who can convince an anxious electorate of the need to swallow some dreadful medicine. If Ryan can't do it, then it's likely nobody can. The answer may be, and cynics will expect, that nobody can.

No matter what, Republicans are now in the age of Ryan. if Romney wins, Ryan is the next vice president of the United States. If Romney loses, Ryan is the next leader of the Republican Party.


HOW DOES RYAN HELP ROMNEY? HOW MUCH WILL HE HURT HIM? AskAB needs questions for the RNC in Tampa and the DNC in Charlotte. Please send them to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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