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Joe Gandelman: Romney’s Ryan reset: For victory or defeat?

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — It seems symbolic that Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan drove the famous Oscar Meyer Weinermobile when he was a teen. Unlike people who gleefully show their buns on San Diego’s Mission Beach, the Weinermobile was created by Oscar Meyer’s nephew, Carl G. Mayer, in 1936, to be a visually stunning and unique vehicle with a car-sized bun holding a car-sized Oscar Meyer weiner on top.

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When Mitt Romney plucked conviction-politician Ryan from the Tea Party ranks to anoint him as his running mate, Romney’s message was that he was one with his party’s base and wanted Ryan to join him on a campaign that he described as a kind of Truthmobile. This was timely, since before Romney’s announcement many in both parties concluded that Romney’s sagging campaign had become a kind of Baloneymobile.

The bottom line: Romney’s pick successfully hit the “reset button.”

Ryan reset his campaign in a way and deflected (for now) questions about his tax returns. He drove the remaining nail in the coffin of the moderate Republicanism his father embraced and the compassionate conservatism the Bush family espouses. He also veered the campaign from being about Barack Obama and his record to the bigger — and riskier — issues of entitlements, whether it’s time to scuttle assumptions about government’s role, and whether trickle-down economics should trump costly government safety nets.

Romney is in command, but Ryan is in the driver’s seat in exciting the Republican Party’s Tea Partiers, talk show hosts, and the conservative news media. Rupert Murdoch is reportedly delighted.

Indeed, Fox News now resembles a 24/7 festival of Ryan envy. Themes: Romney’s decision to pick Ryan may have been “bold,” but Ryan’s positions on budget cuts and Medicare are bolder....Ryan has cute kids...Ryan is “a rock star”.. Ryan does the P90X workout ...Ryan has great hair (take THAT, Donald Trump)...Ryan showed he could take on Barack Obama.

Fox News’ we’re-stunned-by-his-awesomeness descriptions almost matched liberals’ 2008 Democratic Barack Obama worship that sparked conservative jokes about Obama trying to walk on water. But make no mistake, this is serious stuff. Americans now face the most starkly defined choice since the 1964 LBJ-Goldwater race.

Romney now owns Ryan’s controversial budget, his stands on women’s issues and is welded to acutely unpopular, no-compromise Congressional Republicans. He has rebranded the party with its most high profile Tea Party idol. And The Politico says GOP pros are privately worried.

“Away from the cameras, and with all the usual assurances that people aren’t being quoted by name, there is an unmistakable consensus among Republican operatives in Washington: Romney has taken a risk with Ryan that has only a modest chance of going right — and a huge chance of going horribly wrong,” The Politico reports. “(The) most common reactions to Ryan ranged from gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger that Romney has practically ceded the election.”

If Romney-Ryan wins, it’ll mean a political sea change in policy. But already there has been a sea change in the Republican Party.

Arizona Sen. John McCain played to the base by selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who mobilized the party’s right and helped win later Tea Party victories. Now Romney picks Ryan. We’re watching the virtual surrender of the party by the GOP’s one-time dominant wing to 21st century hard-right conservatives.

Democrats are now salivating, but losing this election would mean the obliteration of much of what they put in place since the 1940s. If Romney-Ryan goes down to defeat, 2016 will likely belong to Ryan, facing off against a politically diminished Palin, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.

Is Ryan and his vision for America the wave of the future? Or do Democrats have what it takes to beat back this serious challenge to the legacies of Democratic Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson — and even Republican Theodore Roosevelt?

As Democrats now face an election threatening the survival of their assumptions about what government will do and should do, the question becomes: do Democrats have what it takes to drive the Gutsmobile?

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Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at jgandelman@themoderatevoice.com.

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