The Ryan Rollout: Was the Timing Off?

The Ryan Rollout: Was the Timing Off?

By Erin McPike - August 15, 2012

Until Saturday, one of the burning questions in the presidential campaign was: Would Mitt Romney announce his choice for vice president much earlier than the start of his nominating convention in Tampa?

The answer turned out to be yes. But the early rollout of Paul Ryan seems less about raising more money for the campaign coffers and creating buzz than about trying to put a developing storyline behind him, according to some intensive watchers of this race.

Still, the move has puzzled some campaign veterans, who remain unsure how it benefits Romney.

“I worry that that the champagne cork may have been popped too soon and take some of the fizz out of the convention,” said political strategist Mark McKinnon, who worked for the campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain. 

“Saturday morning of the final Olympic weekend is unusual, to say the least,” said Republican John Weaver, a key consultant to John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential efforts, as well as Jon Huntsman’s aborted bid this cycle.

“I just don't know how the Ryan choice helps win Florida or any of the other swing states,” Weaver added. “I know it energizes the base, but the base so dislikes the president -- for reasons rational and not -- that Romney actually had a lot of room to make a choice more attractive to a broader group of Americans.”

Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain’s 2008 campaign, added: “I think the Romney campaign won the spring portion of the campaign, and Obama won the summer portion of the campaign.” But he went on to say that in light of a rough trip abroad, toughening poll numbers and attacks regarding the GOP nominee’s tax returns and his past running Bain Capital, the campaign couldn’t withstand another two weeks of such pummeling. He figures that Romney strategists must have determined that they had to change the narrative immediately.

Still, Schmidt said, announcing Ryan as the running mate two whole weeks before the convention was a high-risk move.

“He could be defined in a way that’s hardened into concrete” before the convention even begins, Schmidt said, if the attacks on Ryan’s budget plan and vision for Medicare reform take a toll.

Another veteran Republican strategist with experience in recent presidential efforts put it this way: “It probably would have been better to wait until a few days before the convention. But, in fairness, it would only delay the inevitable.”

That is an allusion to the 2008 rollout of Sarah Palin, which was met with enormous enthusiasm by the delegates at the Republican convention in St. Paul. The second thoughts came later.

“The reason vice presidential candidates are [typically] announced so close to the convention is that it gives you the maximum opportunity to define your own narrative,” said Schmidt, who played an instrumental role in orchestrating Palin’s debut. He added that the running mate’s speech is given before a TV audience of at least 40 million people -- without a filter made up of the media and other critics.

To that end, Schmidt said, Romney still some time to bring the narrative to a place that favors him.

“By the end of his convention speech, he has to tell people things he hasn’t told them: Who is Mitt Romney, why is Mitt Romney running for president, and what is Mitt Romney’s plan to turn the country around?” Schmidt said. “That’s his last best chance to do that in front of an audience of at least 40 million people.”

The problem, say most of the political strategists that RCP consulted, is that the campaign now will spend part of its precious time at the four-day confab defending Ryan and explaining how the ticket will approach Medicare, yielding them less opportunity to introduce both men to the broader electorate in a more positive light -- and on their own terms.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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