Ryan as Governing Partner

So we have a VP candidate and the media have something to
talk about.  The term game-changer will
be used as punctuation in every comment about it.
VeepCritique will not be left out, however the focus here is
on the vice president as governing partner. 
So let’s dispense quickly with the politics of Romney’s selection of
Paul Ryan and rush to how a Romney-Ryan team might work together.
The Politics of Picking Ryan
The impact of the vice presidential candidate is nearly
always over-estimated (historic analysis is pretty consistent on this) and
usually involves trade-offs.  The
candidate that appeals to the unaffiliated voter will perturb the base and
vice-versa.  There is no magic bullet in
VP selection, the key is to do no harm and maybe get a bit of help.
This choice was over-shadowed by McCain’s unfortunate
selection of Sarah Palin.  Romney wanted
to avoid this at all costs and he did. 
Ryan is young and telegenic (and really does look like he could be
another member of the Romney brood.)  But
he is not an amateur; Ryan has been in the House of Representatives for seven
terms and has become the party’s leading spokesman on the budget.  One does not get that far in life merely by
being cute.
Whether or not Ryan’s views will hurt or help Romney’s candidacy
is tough to say.  His budget plan gives
plenty of fodder for the Democrats to rally their base – just as it gives the
Republicans plenty of fodder to rally theirs. 
How it will impact the undecided voters is tough to say (presumably the
ultra-analytical Romney team has done some pretty serious study of this
question.)  But most voters don’t do
in-depth studies of complex issues, they make their decisions based on general
impressions.  Republicans mean less
government and taxes – Democrats mean more government and taxes.  The rest is commentary.
Finally, over the next decade the budget will be THE
.  The United States is facing some
pretty serious fiscal challenges – we can address them (we are the wealthiest
society in history) but the sooner we do so the less difficult the
adjustment.  Ideally we would have taken
this stuff on in the 1990s.  One may not
agree with Ryan’s plan – but at least he is in the game in a serious way.
Ryan as Governing Partner
The top determinant for the vice president’s role in an
administration is whether or not the president is inclined to turn to his vice
president for advice on critical decisions. 
It is unknown if Ryan and Romney have this kind of relationship.  Often this friendship is forged in the heat of
the campaign as the individuals and their staffs learn to work together.
One past indicator is that older Presidents do not tend to
take advice from younger vice presidents. 
The most influential vice presidents in recent years have been Mondale
(four years younger then the President), Gore (two years younger then the
President), Cheney (Cheney five years older then the President), and Biden (19
years older then the President.)  Quayle,
by contrast, was 23 years younger then President Bush Sr. Another example is
Eisenhower who was 23 years older then Nixon. 
This is the age difference between Ryan and Romney – it is not destiny,
the sample of President-Vice President relationships is extremely small.  But it could be a factor.
That being said, Ryan would almost certainly have a role in
a Romney White House.  It is extremely
difficult to block the vice president out of the policy process.  The West Wing office along with access to
White House meetings and the President have become traditional perquisites of
the vice president.  They are not
enshrined in law, but it would be embarrassing to remove them.  It would be a public admission that the
President did not have confidence in the Vice President.
Vice presidents strongly associated with a wing of their party
are often expected to be their advocate within the White House.  They are usually disappointed.  The vice president can make the case, but
ultimately the president decides and the vice president must publicly support
the decision or risk alienating the commander-in-chief.  Most vice presidents have advocated
forcefully for positions that were not in line with their previous political
views (and which they may have privately opposed).
Vice presidents are probably at their most influential as a
high-level sounding board that can compensate for a President’s analytical
weaknesses.  President Carter, an
engineer by training, labored over details in an effort to find perfect
technical solutions.  Mondale sought to
remind him of the political realities that had to be taken into
consideration.  In contrast, Clinton had
a fine-tuned political antenna and maneuvered according. Gore would counsel him
to take stands on principle.
Whether Romney is open to having Ryan play this role is an
open question.  Ryan will almost
certainly play an active role as advisor, administration spokesperson, and
point of contact with Congress.  Whether
or not he will also be a source of influence in the administration is difficult
to know, not only for outside observers, but probably for the candidates

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2 Responses

  1. "The vice president can make the case, but ultimately the president decides and the vice president must publicly support the decision or risk alienating the commander-in-chief."

    This would make an interesting (perhaps not in a good way) dynamic in the White House. I think of Humphrey, who lost his credibility with his base over his support of Johnson's Vietnam policy. Given the Tea Party's methods, one can imagine a Ryan defeated in internal debates going public. It's a risky pick from a governance point of view.

  2. It is a tough call, both strategies have costs. But the records of VPs who allow any public daylight between themselves and the President is not good. Poor Humphrey managed the worst of both worlds, LBJ shut him out for his disagreeing over Vietnam and the public excoriated him for supporting Johnson on Vietnam.

    From Mondale on VPs have kept close to the President. Could Ryan be an exception? Maybe, but publicly splitting from the President is easier said then done.

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