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Rep. Paul Ryan's Selection A Game Changer?


Now, for even more analysis - can't have too much analysis - we turn to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and contributing editor for the Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti. They both join me in the studio now.

Welcome, you two.


E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Matt, let me begin with you. What does Congressman Ryan add?

CONTINETTI: Well, he adds a lot. He adds a plan. You know, a big complaint about Mitt Romney is that he's run this undefined campaign that was simply going to be a kind of up-or-down referendum on the latest jobs numbers. Now, with Romney on - with Ryan on the ticket, you have an actual plan. You have substantive policy debates in the coming months. Another thing is that I think is often overlooked is Ryan is of a younger generation. And it's clear when you just look at the ticket, it's almost as though Ryan is the missing - Romney's son(ph) . And I think that signals, you know, a deep feeling on the part of a lot of Republicans to move beyond the Bush years.

Now, Ryan was in the Congress during the Bush years, but he represents this new leadership, this young, vibrant leadership. And I think that's going to add a lot of excitement to the ticket.

WERTHEIMER: So, E.J., what do you think the selection of Paul Ryan might mean for Democrats? Will it change campaign strategies for President Obama?

DIONNE: I think it will reinforce the strategy he's been pursuing. The good news for Romney is Ryan has a plan. The bad news for Romney is Ryan has a plan. And now that Ryan is on the ticket, Romney's going to have to answer for all of it, unless he says otherwise, unless he says he disagrees with some piece of it, which is not going to be convenient for Romney at all. I also think...

WERTHEIMER: Well, he does outrank Paul Ryan on this.

DIONNE: I'm sorry?

WERTHEIMER: He does outrank Mr. Ryan.

DIONNE: It's true. But it will create some friction, and people will say, again, well, if he really believes this way, is he again flip-flopping? Or something like that. I mean, he's got some - you know, because he's changed his positions on a number of issues, Romney has a real problem on that constancy question, which is why Ryan so defines this ticket right now.

But I also think it was a sign of kind of weakness. Because if Romney were way up in the polls, I don't think he would have had to take as big a risk as Ryan is. And he could have picked someone who might help him carry a state, like Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio. Romney's got to carry Ohio. It's quite clear Portman could have helped him there. He could have picked somebody he really likes. Apparently, he really likes Tim Pawlenty.

But he's down in the polls. The Republican right was pressuring him to pick Ryan. And so, in some sense, it's also going to look like he responded to this pressure. And that, I think, will be part of the dialogue in the coming days, too.

WERTHEIMER: So, Matt, let's - could you step back and look at vice presidential picks and tell me if you think a vice presidential candidate really ever has made a difference, and whether you think this one will make a difference?

CONTINETTI: Well, four years ago, we had Sarah Palin. She was like a grenade that went off in the middle of the presidential campaign. She scrambled everything. No one knew who she was. No one knew how to respond to her. Then she had her - some trip-ups of her own later in September, with her interview with Katie Couric. That was clearly a vice presidential pick that mattered, I think, in the race.

You can argue it both ways, by the way, because she also inspired a lot of voters to come out to the polls. I think Ryan is a similar pick. I think he's going to matter. I think...

WERTHEIMER: A similar pick?


CONTINETTI: He's similar to Palin in the sense that he's shaking up the race, but rather than scrambling the race, what I think he does is elevate it to another level. And I think that's important. And I think a lot of people on both sides were looking for this debate of ideas. Certainly, the Obama campaign was.

And we talk about the Ryan plan - there are a lot of Ryan plans. You know, first it was the Roadmap for America's Future. He unleashed that in 2008. Then it was the Path to Prosperity. He came out with that in 2009, 2010. A lot of Republicans in 2010 were associated with it and they won their races, like Marco Rubio in Florida. Now we have the House Republican budget, which the House has passed now for two years in a row.

He also has a plan with Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, which shows his ability to sometimes cross the aisle. So there are a lot of Ryan plans. I think he'll have similar flexibility as Romney-Ryan now try to come up with their new approach.

WERTHEIMER: So, E.J., do you think that this will focus the race in ways that it has not been focused before? That seems - that's my sense.

DIONNE: I think the race has been moving in this direction. President Obama has an ad up right now. It's actually a very sober ad. He just speaks to camera, and he basically says the Republicans want to cut taxes on the rich, cut government. I have a different approach. I want to raise taxes on the wealthy - or, as he says, make the - have them make a modest contribution to balance the budget. This choice reinforces that Obama argument.

But I do think that it will now make this election a very clarifying election for the country. Before Ryan was put on the ticket, if Romney lost, conservatives were going to be able to say, ah, we had this tepid candidate. He didn't really make our race. So this wasn't a referendum on us. And so if they lose, they won't have that excuse, and I think we may settle the argument one way.

For liberals, before we cheer too much, it's worth saying that if for some reason this ticket wins, they are going to be able to claim a mandate for a whole series of rather radical ideas. And so whatever else is true, the good news about this choice is this election now really, really matters.

WERTHEIMER: Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and contributing editor for the Weekly Standard Matthew Continetti, thank you both very much for joining us.

CONTINETTI: Thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.