Mitt Romney took some flak for announcing to thousands of cheering supporters Saturday that Paul Ryan is “the next president of the United States.”
For now, Ryan is merely slated to be the Republican nominee for vice president.
But this is one of those instances where the gaffe is more revealing than the prepared remarks.
With the selection of the House Budget Committee chairman as his ticket mate, Romney has acknowledged that he’s not really hosting this year’s Grand Old Party.
The presumptive presidential nominee has bowed—not a tip of the head here, a full bow—to the party’s conservative establishment and to grassroots right-wingers who demand not electability but absolute purity.
That’s a more significant shift than it might seem. The Romney campaign plan was supposed to follow classic GOP lines: run to the right in the primaries and then, with the nomination secured, pivot at least a little bit toward the center. Even as he battled Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the winter and spring, Romney tried to maintain a measure of ideological maneuverability
Romney has deferred, fully, to the right.
Until just a few days ago, Ryan was considered an unlikely prospect for the number-two spot on the Republican ticket: too rigid in his budgetary obsessions, too wacky in his enthusiasm for Ayn Rand’s novels and Austrian economics, too enthusiastic about taking apart Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Romney likes Ryan personally—enjoying the frat-boy comaraderie that they displayed while campaigning together before Wisconsin’s April primary—but there was never any doubt that he and his team had their doubts about whether they wanted to let the more dynamic and ideologically pure Ryan define not just the ticket but a potential Romney-Ryan presidency.
It was the right that wanted Ryan on the ticket.
And the right got what it wanted.
In the end, Romney had to bow in order to secure a base that despises President Obama but that never had much taste for the formerly centrist former governor of the only state that backed George McGovern for president in 1972. There was a lingering fear that, as with the Bushes, Romney might go “off message” on them.
Those fears surfaced—“big time,” as Dick Cheney would put it—as the Romney campaign was finishing the vice-presidential selection process.
The first days of August found conservatives entertaining serious doubts about whether Mitt Romney is really one of them. First, one of Romney’s top aides, Andrea Saul, got caught talking up Romneycare (the Massachusetts version of Obamacare) as a cure for what ails the uninsured. Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter responded by calling Saul a “moron,” demanding that Romney fire the spokeswoman.