There was a widely-held assumption that once the Republican nominating phase was over, Mitt Romney would, as he's done several times before, simply shed this skin for another. When his chief strategist promised the candidate would shake the "Etch A Sketch," it stuck because it reinforced suspicions: as a general-election candidate, we'd see a whole new Mitt (again).
But it's worth pausing to appreciate just how wrong these assumptions were. There are 85 days until Election Day, and Romney is still pandering to the right as if the Iowa caucuses were right around the corner. There's been no effort to move towards the mainstream at all, and Paul Ryan's appearance on the GOP ticket is a critical part of this dynamic. As Nate Silver explained over the weekend:
Politics 101 suggests that you play toward the center of the electorate. Although this rule has more frequently been violated when it comes to vice-presidential picks, there is evidence that presidential candidates who have more “extreme” ideologies (closer to the left wing or the right wing than the electoral center) underperform relative to the economic fundamentals.
Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
By this measure, in fact, which rates members of the House and Senate throughout different time periods on a common ideology scale, 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.
There's been some interest this morning on Ryan's incredibly thin legislative resume. After seven terms in Congress, the right-wing Wisconsin congressman has presented plenty of ideas and given plenty of speeches, but when it comes to actually making laws, Ryan has seen only two of his bills become law: renaming a post office and a change to the excise tax on arrows.
And while it's interesting that Ryan is an unaccomplished politician, I still think it's more noteworthy that he's a fiercely ideological politician. Romney very easily could have picked a running mate with broader appeal to voters outside his own base, but he chose not to -- instead picking the most extreme VP nominee, as a quantifiable matter, in modern times.
It's a ticket of, by, and for the right, not even trying to appeal to moderates or Democrats who might be open to outreach. Romney's entire 2012 strategy, it appears, is mobilizing the far-right base and then hoping for the best.
The Etch A Sketch appears to have been thrown out the window.