The left, right, center are in general agreement: Romney felt he was on a trajectory to lose a close contest and chose Ryan as a risky game-changing pick to move the frame from a referendum election on the President’s economic record to a choice election on the future of the size and scope of the federal government.
There are a number of problems with this conventional wisdom, which has been partly driven by the three recent national polls showing Obama with a substantial lead. Boston and Chicago agree on a number of things that don’t suggest Romney needed to take a big gamble: Obama doesn’t actually have a huge lead; the election will likely be close; Obama can win a choice election, but not a referendum; and Romney’s team will have more money (and maybe a lot more) to spend in the fall.
To be sure, there are some potential downsides in choosing Ryan, who is untested in several key areas and who gives Democrats a better chance to smoke out Romney on budget and tax issues. And there is no doubt that Democrats think Romney has given them a huge gift.
But my sense is Romney chose Ryan as someone whom he would like to govern with and whom he likes. For all their strengths, Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty would not have been excitement picks and would not have generated much media buzz or big crowds, both of which are required in the modern veepstakes racket.
So, Ryan could in the end hurt Romney’s chances or help them, but the notion that Mitt made the pick in a state of panic about his odds isn’t accurate. Before the pick, Romney’s chances were predicated on voters casting their ballots based on a lack of confidence in Obama to be a good steward of a good economy. That is still true now that Romney has become Romney-Ryan. And that is the whole ball of wax.