A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
In selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney signals his determination to conduct a campaign of ideas.
In part, this decision almost surely stems from recent polls suggesting Romney couldn’t win a campaign of personalities.The latest surveys all suggest that President Obama enjoys a small but significant lead over his Republican challenger, despite that big majorities think the nation is headed in the wrong direction and regular pluralities disapprove of the president’s job performance. The most significant Democratic edge involves the likability factor: by ratios of some 2 to 1, respondents believe that Obama is friendlier, more likable than Romney, and more likely to share the concerns of ordinary people.
Team Obama has ruthlessly pressed this advantage by investing all its resources in demonizing Romney rather than promoting the president’s record in office. The “Mitt Romney Killed My Wife” ad from Priorities USA and the “Mitt Wants to Pick Your Pocket” message from MoveOn.org represent only the most laughably shameless examples of the campaign. When Democrats spend significant money on television messages about Ann Romney’s horse and employ a tagline stating baldly that “Mitt Romney is not the Solution—He’s the Problem,” it’s obvious they mean to wage a campaign of personalities.
The one way for the GOP to regain momentum would be to return the campaign’s focus to the issues, where most Americans agree with them. More people want to see government do less than do more and prefer to see spending cuts rather than Obama’s “new investments.” According to Gallup, those who describe themselves as “conservative” outnumber those who call themselves “liberal” by nearly 2 to 1 (40 percent to 21 percent), which suggests that the GOP should win any election that focuses on ideology, rather than on vague notions of hope and change or questions of which candidate would make the most lovable neighbor over the backyard fence.
With that in mind, Romney boldly selected from the unequivocally conservative “R” menu of possible vice-presidential picks (Rubio and Ryan) rather than the less ideological “P” menu (Portman and Pawlenty). In the process, he picked Right-wing intensity over Pragmatism, sweeping Reform over incremental Practicality.