With just 12 weeks to go before the election, it's certainly late in the game for Romney to rebrand his campaign. But he may have done just that by selecting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running-mate.
Republican coalition building, beyond the base which Ryan brings, might require an unabashed argument for a significantly limited role of government. While the national punditry has focused upon Medicare, Ryan's economic policies, and the deficit since Ryan's rollout, the limited government ethos was hiding in plain sight.
"Our rights come from nature and God, not government," Ryan said during his introductory speech last week in front of the U.S.S. Wisconsin. It earned Ryan his biggest applause of the day. And it was decidedly more substantive than Sarah Palin's hugely popular but gone-in-a-flash "hockey mom and a pit bull" line during her VP acceptance speech in 2008.
Moreover, it was a pivot from the single-minded jobs theme which the Romney campaign envisioned from its inception.
Pledging to get the government out of people's lives could help the Romney-Ryan team hook two distinct constituencies. The first is Rep. Ron Paul's, R-Texas, supporters. Consider that Paul, who ran again in this year's Republican primaries, has been talking about this for ages. His supporters, many of whom are young libertarians, are by no means shoo-ins to vote for Romney (or to turn out at all).
Once dismissed in past presidential cycles, few foresaw Paul's breakthrough this time around. His crowds were markedly younger and more enthusiastic than Romney's during the primary season.
So Romney hopes to provide an "out clause" for some Paul voters who vowed never to vote for him, by showing that he listened to them in selecting someone like Ryan and incorporating some of their causes into his platform.
A second group is Tea Party voters. The New York Times' Kate Zernike, at her late 2010 book signing of Boiling Mad, reminded attendees that the Tea Party was also a grassroots movement started by young, ideological libertarians. And Tea Party activists in the 2010 primaries turned against Republicans who strayed from "small-government principles," wrote the Wall Street Journal's Peter Wallsten and Danny Yadron around the time of Zernike's book release. (We saw this again in 2012 in a few notable Republican primaries for governor and senate.)
Although Ryan comes from the mainstream, he was the best plausible pick for these groups because we now know that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were Romney's top alternatives.
Romney's latest rebranding has not gone unchallenged. The Democrats have effectively shifted the emphasis to Ryan's "draconian" budget cuts. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC Chair, criticized Romney for months for proposing to slash spending in "infrastructure, education, the Internet," and other areas in which the Democrats have promised to invest. Wasserman Schultz added "Medicare" to that list once Ryan was chosen.
Accordingly, Politico recently revealed the "consensus" fear by Republican strategists (on background) that Ryan could tank the party's prospects down the ticket in House and Senate races -- where such issues feel closer to home.
No one votes for vice president, the old adage goes. Such a simplistic view, however, ignores the possibility that a "number two" can pull the ticket in a direction it would not (or could not) have otherwise gone.
As Romney said on 60 Minutes last Sunday, Ryan's "unique capacity" to coalesce people from "different parties" toward "a common purpose" was a key reason why he chose him. So there's a lot riding on this newly-selected, 42-year-old running mate. Unless of course Romney reverts to a less-controversial, generic message on the economy.
Adam Silbert, an attorney, served as a deputy field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign.