By Mike Dorf
The Romney campaign is at its worst when the candidate or one of his aides goes off script, but at its best in scripted, planned events. Thus, one has to wonder what angle the campaign was playing by announcing the selection of a running mate early on a Saturday morning near the end of the Olympics. The timing seems almost designed to bury the story, even though candidates typically use the VP selection as an opportunity to grab some attention and get some "bounce" during the long dull period between the conclusion of the primary contests and the convention. So what gives?
My hypothesis: Gov. Romney picked Rep. Ryan to satisfy the GOP/Tea Party conservative base, even as he was aware that Ryan carries considerable risks: As the poster child for GOP austerity for the middle class combined with (further) tax cuts for the wealthy, Ryan could energize the Democratic base and plays into the Obama campaign strategy of making this election a referendum on the role and scope of government. Over the last several Presidential elections, the Democratic candidates' charges that the Republicans aimed to dismantle the New Deal have largely rung hollow: Reagan and Bush 2 cut taxes but did not substantially cut domestic spending and probably never were really that interested in doing so, while Bush 1 governed on domestic economic policy issues as a centrist. But with Ryan at his side, Romney could be the real thing.
And so, knowing that the sort of engaged citizens who pay close attention to such things would notice the Ryan selection no matter when he made, Romney may well have calculated that the lift he would get from conservative Republicans who were suspicious of his bona fides outweighed the lift the Obama campaign would get from energizing Democratic activists in opposition to Ryan. By burying the story on an Olympic weekend, meanwhile, Romney could avoid backlash from the barely-engaged swing voters who would be put off by the scope of what Ryan wants to do, if they had it explained to them.