Once upon a short time ago, there was Jack Kemp. A former professional football star turned politician, Kemp found the peak of his political career playing number 2 to 1996 Republican nominee, Bob Dole. Dole's choice for vice president fired up the base and gave the Republicans the kind of candidate they could be excited about – a similar train of logic to the Romney campaign right now. But this is where things got sticky.
When the GOP base saw their ticket falling behind Bill Clinton and Al Gore, frustration mounted and the base demanded changes. Sounding familiar? When they saw that Dole wasn’t willing to be a mouthpiece for their message and attack Clinton on “character issues,” they turned to Kemp to play the part. But in the vice presidential debate against Al Gore, Kemp answered a question about the “personal and ethical differences” between him and Bill Clinton with nuanced and “mature” response, as opposed to picking up his slingshot and starting to shoot mud at his opponents. “Bob Dole and myself do not see Al Gore and Bill Clinton as our enemy,” he told the debate moderator. From there, the base abandoned him, and the man who would’ve been a clear contender for the Republican nomination in 2000 came to rue the day the VP-slot was offered to him in the first place.
Well, everything old is new again and speculation has started as to whether or not Kemp's destiny will now become Ryan's. Steve Kornacki seems to think so, saying: “I can see a similar moment on the horizon for Ryan.” In the days following Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent, there has been some very public frustration from conservatives who are wondering aloud: what can be done to put this campaign back on track? Some are saying unleash Ryan. He was put on the ticket to generate excitement and rally the base – let him! But as Steve points out, what excites the base does not always make for a good national platform.
In the wake of defeat come November, will Paul Ryan have a silver lining and a direct line to the head of the party four years from now? Or will the “stench” of Romney reverse his political trajectory and make the goal of attaining the White House some kind of far-off fairy tale?
Time will tell. But Ryan should let his former mentor be a lesson to him – because history does have the tendency to repeat itself.