It doesn’t surprise me to learn that President Obama was mystified when he learned that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) had been selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate. I could never understand the reasoning behind it, either. For starters, I thought that after the debacle with Sarah Palin, Romney would want to pick someone with obvious stature on the world stage. He’d want someone that everyone could instantly envision being commander-in-chief. Maybe Dick Lugar was too old, but there had to be someone with foreign policy chops that he could choose. Secondly, if he wasn’t going to go for foreign policy experience, he should have stayed away from Washington DC entirely and found a governor to run with. Thirdly, if he was going to pick someone from Washington DC, he should have found someone who wasn’t the very symbol of gridlock and austerity. The Ryan Budget plan wasn’t all that well known by the general public, but it polled about as well as an outbreak of cholera.

And one last point. Four years earlier, John McCain had looked at his problems with the conservative base of the party and concluded that he needed to reassure them and get them fired up with his selection of running mate. While it’s true that Sarah Palin wasn’t sufficiently vetted and turned out to have more problems than Team McCain could have ever imagined, she did fire up the base. Yet, it didn’t even come close to winning them the election.

If for no other reason than having some respect for Einstein’s definition of insanity, Romney should have tried to reassure the middle rather than repeating McCain’s strategy of trying to reassure the base. I don’t even think Paul Ryan did much to fire up the base, because he’s a fairly unassuming guy. Most people didn’t know who he was, and the people who were familiar with his budget and liked his ideas were already politically engaged and very likely to vote. At best, the selection of Ryan helped increase the numbers and morale of Romney’s volunteers. Perhaps he got a little boost in political contributions. But, that’s it.

It was a very strange choice made by a very strange man.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at