Eddie Haskell Maintains His Mask

The day Mitt Romney put Paul Ryan on the ticket, my immediate reaction was to speculate that this was a definite effort to get conservative activists off Mitt’s back and liberate him to run whatever kind of campaign he wanted: “Here you go! Now STFU!”

If that was the idea, the memo didn’t seem to get around, because Ryan’s presence on the ticket has become an actual irritant to many of the Wisconsin’s fans who are increasingly agitated that this isn’t the Randian anti-entitlement firebrand they know and love. WaPo’s Felicia Sonmez and David A. Fahrenthold have the low-down:

Conservatives had hoped that Mitt Romney’s choice of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) as his running mate would make Romney act more like Ryan — bold, specific, confident.

Instead, in the six weeks since Ryan became the GOP vice presidential nominee — and particularly in the three weeks since the Republican National Convention in Tampa — there has been mounting concern among Republicans that the pick has made Ryan look more like Romney — vague, cautious and limited to pre-set talking points….

“I was wrong. When Paul Ryan was picked, I really thought this meant that the Romney campaign was shifting gears and was going to have a debate about big issues,” said Michael Tanner, an expert on health care and the budget at the libertarian Cato Institute.

He said that Romney’s campaign had previously cast the race as a referendum on Obama instead of as a choice between two clear visions. That hasn’t changed, Tanner said.

“Why do you pick somebody like Paul Ryan if you’re going to run a referendum, Obama’s-done-a-bad-job campaign?” Tanner asked.

That’s the question being raised by all sorts of people on the Right who weren’t informed or didn’t accept that the gift of the vice-presidential nomination was the last gift the Romney campaign intended to give them before November 6.

So the Eddie Haskell persona Ryan’s put on from the moment he was chosen–reassuring old folks he’s not the Social-Security-and-Medicare hater his record would suggest, and is instead actually their very best friend, determined to protect their benefits from mean old Barack Obama–is upsetting those who are fond of the smart-and-snarky Eddie who emerges when Mrs. Cleaver isn’t around. Indeed, Team Mitt is in serious danger of falling between two stools here, picking a vulnerable running mate whose downside can’t be made to go away even as his upside is obscured.

Before it’s over, Tim Pawlenty may look better than ever in the rear-view mirror.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.