Coming as it did months after the Florida primary, Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Mitt Romney earlier this week could be said to be more an indication of the frontrunner’s inevitability than a gesture that provided any tangible assistance. But the same cannot be said of Rep. Paul Ryan’s announcement today that he is supporting Romney.
With just four days left before the Wisconsin Primary on Tuesday, Ryan’s backing is a telling blow to any hopes Rick Santorum might have harbored about an upset in the Badger state. Ryan is a popular figure in his home state, and while endorsements do not guarantee votes, there’s no denying it will give Romney a boost at a time when he is maintaining a steady but not overwhelming lead. The warmth of the endorsement and the way Ryan addressed the fears of conservatives about his candidate’s moderate tendencies should also go a long way toward putting a fork in a GOP race that appears to be winding down.
Given the fact that Romney has been more supportive of Ryan’s entitlement reform efforts as well as his proposed budget, the endorsement should have surprised no one. But Ryan’s attempt to draw a distinction between Romney and past GOP losers who tilted to the center is noteworthy. As Politico reports:
Ryan told Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes that Romney, unlike past GOP presidential nominees Bob Dole and John McCain, is a true conservative.
“I was not a fan of Bob Dole being our nominee in ‘96, I didn’t support John McCain throughout the primary, I supported other people last time,” he said. “This is not the same kind of candidate.”
Ryan also said that his decision to support Romney isn’t him “settling,” saying the candidate won’t “cut and run” from conservative principles if he’s elected.
“I do believe we’re not settling,” he said. “If I did, I wouldn’t do this.”
Of course, Democrats will regard the Ryan endorsement as a kiss of death to Romney as they fully intend on running in the fall on the same sort of Mediscare tactics that they have employed in the last year. Demonizing Ryan will be a cornerstone of the Obama campaign. But the idea that the reformist congressman will hurt Romney and the GOP nationally is based on an assumption that most Americans are more afraid of losing their entitlements than they are about the economic future of the country.
They would also be delighted should Romney tap Ryan for the vice presidential nomination. But while Ryan is not viewed as being as much of a potential asset as Rubio, Democrats would making a mistake if they think they can do to the Wisconsin congressman what they did to Sarah Palin four years ago. Ryan is brilliant, articulate and deeply principled. The more Americans are exposed to his ideas, the less Democrats are going to like it.
Ryan’s proposals may be controversial in Washington, but the Democrats’ belief that they can duplicate the success throughout the nation they had with this issue in one special congressional election in Western New York last spring may not be justified. His presence on the GOP ticket might play into Obama’s strategy of making the election a referendum on the GOP’s budget. But it would also allow Romney and his running mate to stake out a position on the nation’s future that could galvanize mainstream support.
Paul Ryan may be an important factor in the Wisconsin GOP primary. But he might turn out to be even more important in the fall.