Perhaps clearer than Ryan’s future is the effect that he had on the course of the White House race.
When Romney tapped Ryan in August to serve as his running mate, Democrats argued that the Ryan pick would hand their party a win on the issue of Medicare, the popular entitlement program that the Wisconsin Republican in his sweeping budget blueprint sought to overhaul. Polls last year showed a clear majority of Americans opposed Ryan’s plan.
Republicans contended that Romney’s decision to elevate Ryan would electrify the GOP base and serve as an opportunity to transform the campaign into a debate over “big issues” such as debt reduction and entitlement reform.
That big-issue debate might not have come to fruition, as both candidates set their sights on the other side’s gaffes and missteps. But Ryan and his plan to overhaul Medicare did not, polling has shown, prove to be the liability that Democrats had hoped they would be. Despite scores of Democratic campaign ads warning that Ryan would “end Medicare as we know it,” Republicans maintained a clear lead over Democrats among seniors.
Among the possible reasons for that edge: Some voters gave Ryan credit for tackling the program’s fiscal problems, while Democrats had yet to convince them that they had any sort of plan for making sure that the popular program remains solvent.
“In Paul Ryan, you have somebody who’s actually worked across the aisle and put together a comprehensive plan and at least tried to deal with this issue,” Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden said. “And I think people respect that — that he’s actually taken on something that is universally recognized by both parties as an important issue that’s going to affect the fiscal health of the country.”
In terms of the electoral map, Ryan did not succeed in putting his home state of Wisconsin into the Republican win column, as many had hoped — a particularly disappointing outcome after Republican Scott Walker’s sweeping wins in the 2010 governor’s race and the subsequent recall effort.