TheDC’s Jamie Weinstein: Ryan or Christie for VP would signal real change

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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There are many fine and capable vice presidential possibilities for Mitt Romney, from Marco Rubio to Bobby Jindal to Condoleezza Rice. But at our time of fiscal crisis, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie are his best options.

The polls don’t reflect it yet, but count me among those few who think the presidential election is Mitt Romney’s to lose.

With the economy in shambles and little prospect that things will improve significantly before Election Day, President Barack Obama is in trouble. His gigantic fiscal stimulus failed to stimulate the way his administration had projected. His signature domestic achievement, Obamacare, remains unpopular. And his base no longer projects upon him messianic qualities.

This is a recipe for electoral disaster.

Some conservative political pundits are criticizing Romney for seemingly trying to run out the clock. That is, playing it safe and allowing the economy to defeat Obama for him. Romney needs to be bold, this school of thought goes, in order to beat Obama.

I don’t think that’s true. I think it is quite possible that Romney could win the presidency by playing it safe and taking very few risks.

But merely winning isn’t sufficient. America’s fiscal trajectory is unsustainable. Our entitlement programs contain tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities that make our $15 trillion debt look manageable by comparison. Major entitlement reform will have to be the central domestic focus of our next president.

This isn’t a popular position. Conventional political wisdom dictates that it is political suicide to campaign on a platform to seriously reform — and scale back — Medicare and Social Security. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Romney campaign)

But it must be done or we’re finished as a great power, which is why Mitt Romney needs to make this a choice election. Winning isn’t good enough — he must win on a platform that makes clear, specifically, how his presidency will reform entitlements and get America back on path to lead the 21st century.

This is why of all the choices he has for his vice presidential pick, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are far and away his best to signal the type of choice election we need to have.

Other candidates may be more exciting (Marco Rubio) or potentially politically advantageous (Marco Rubio). But Ryan and Christie epitomize, in slightly different ways, one side of the choice America should be given.

Ryan, of course, is the author of the House budget plan that seeks to reform Medicare and get our fiscal house in order. It is a deadly serious plan, even if I think it could go further. But no politician knows the facts of our looming fiscal disaster better than Ryan. He is able to articulate what needs to be done and why.

Perhaps most crucially, his inclusion on the ticket will make clear what a Romney-Ryan administration will be all about. A win will be far more than just a win — it will be a mandate for fundamental structural change to our entitlement programs and our fiscal situation.

In a slightly different way, Christie also fits this bill. Not quite the intellectual leader on these issues that Ryan is, Christie is simply a leader. Since being elected governor of Democratic New Jersey in 2009, Christie has fought for fiscal reform — particularly of New Jersey’s unsustainable public employee pension and benefit program — and achieved it.

The change he brought about was never thought to be popular. It should have been politically ruinous. But he explained to his constituents, often boisterously, the impossibility of allowing business to go on as usual. They listened. His approval rating is as high as it has ever been, with 56 percent of New Jerseyans approving of his performance and only 33 percent disapproving, according to a May poll.

Christie also has the ability, in his own very unique way, to explain why such fundamental changes to America’s entitlements are needed. Like a win for a Romney-Ryan ticket, a win for Romney-Christie would be a mandate for the type of tough change necessary to save America from fiscal ruin.

Seasoned political hands would argue that picking Ryan especially would be politically idiotic. Even though Romney has come out in favor of Ryan’s budget, tying himself closer to it by placing Ryan on the ticket would further empower liberal interest groups to demagogue the ticket as one that wants to kill orphans and old people.

But it would be an empty victory if Romney won without such a mandate for major reform. Much better to give Americans a choice and let them decide their fate — will we make difficult choices and thrive, or stick our head in the sand and decline?

Reports suggest that Romney could make his VP selection early, possibly even next week. Let’s hope he makes the politically risky, but necessary, decision to signal that this race is about change — and not the ephemeral and ill-defined change of 2008 Obama, but real change. Change that is painful and difficult, but necessary and ultimately rewarding. The type of change we need to keep America thriving economically and militarily atop of the world stage as far as the eye can see.

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