Will Paul Ryan Alienate Undecided Voters?

Paul RyanPhoto via Flickr/Tobyotter

The unofficial rules for picking a vice president go something like this:

  1. Pick someone who will help, not harm you. (John McCain broke this one with Sarah Palin.)
  2. Pick someone who has experience in an area you’re lacking. (Barack Obama picked Joe Biden; George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney.)
  3. Pick someone from a swing state, to get a boost in the election. (Polling whiz Nate Silver says a VP helps by about two percentage points in his home state.)

Looking at this list, I’m still trying to figure out why Mitt Romney picked Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential candidate.

Okay, yes, at some level, I get it: Ryan is handsome, young, and smart. (He could pass for a Romney son or a nephew!) Over the past few years, despite his youth, he’s certainly become the intellectual standard-bearer for the Republican party. Maybe he’ll help with #3, by winning Wisconsin for the GOP.

Romney seems likely to have picked him, though, because he’ll get the conservative base excited.

The problem is Romney doesn’t need to win those voters. They’re going to cast their ballot for him no matter what—they really don’t like Barack Obama. The voters Romney needs to convince are still undecided, which is a small group: Only six to eight percent of voters haven’t picked a corner yet.

The problem is that Paul Ryan is going to alienate a lot of those undecided voters, just based on his political stances. The economic plan Ryan released in 2011 would turn Medicare into a voucher program, which is remarkably unpopular: When he unveiled it, a CNN poll showed that 58 percent of voters opposed the plan, including 54 percent of conservatives. He’s totally against abortion rights—even in the case of rape or incest—and is opposed to gay marriage. Just how conservative is Ryan? Nate Silver looked back on his voting record:

“…Mr. Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900. He is also more conservative than any Democratic nominee was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the center.”

That’s right: Ryan is more conservative than Dick Cheney or Richard Nixon. I’m trying to figure out the Democratic equivalent of Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan. Would it be Obama selecting Bernie Sanders as VP? Or Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid? You know: the sort of picks that would make undecided voters’ toes curl.