What is it with these guy's introducing their vice-presidential choices as "the next president of the United States"?
Barack Obama did it with Joe Biden in August 2008. Then, as if he thought it lucky to emulate a candidate who won, Mitt Romney re-enacted the gaffe Saturday morning in Virginia, introducing his own VP pick, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, as the soon-to-be leader of the free world.
Maybe by August presumptive nominees realize what a horrible gig the whole presidential race is, and they're ready to hand off the baton to a fresh runner. No such luck, fellas.
With Ryan, Romney achieved what he couldn't manage by looking stern and turning his back on his previous embrace of the individual health care mandate, gun laws and abortion: He made his ticket "severely conservative." Ryan is best known as the chair of the House Budget Committee and the author of "Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal," which is severe, and conservative, but also addresses a universe where math and consequences exist. That separates him from most prominent politicians right off the bat.
Romney used his pick to motivate a conservative base that's always been queasy about him, rather than to woo independents. It's a wise choice: Independents won't decide based on the running mate, but conservatives may be more motivated to get off the Barcalounger and vote for a ticket that includes the reliably right-wing Ryan.
Romney also chose not to go with a true "Rock Star Republican" like New Jersey's Chris Christie or Florida's Marco Rubio -- also smart. Having Romney head a ticket with Rubio or Christie in the second spot would be like having Bruce Springsteen open for James Taylor.
And Romney dodged the splashy picks that could have backfired like a 1986 Yugo: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who, honestly, makes Sarah Palin look presidential, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a smart guy who is, unfortunately, best known for a State of the Union rebuttal in 2009 that would have garnered last place at a grade school Optimist Club speaking contest.
"Path to Prosperity" is Ryan's strength, and his vulnerability. It includes changing Medicare in a way that would almost certainly leave seniors paying a lot more and, in different renditions, has offered an optional flat tax, a value-added tax, elimination of many deductions and a large tax cut for the highest payers.
On Saturday, Ryan made his role clear. He's a better speaker than Romney, and he'll be a relentless attack dog -- a common assignment for running mates -- hammering President Barack Obama with smooth one-liners, and deeper digs.
This is the second earliest a vice-presidential candidate has ever been announced (John Kerry's choice of John Edwards was the earliest). The timing is meant to reset a campaign that had begun to revolve around Romney's unseen tax returns and his decade of policy flip-flops as he went from wooing Massachusetts voters to trying to romance the whole nation.
There are a lot of Republicans who wanted Ryan on a national ticket this year, but in the top spot. And in the past few weeks, the drumbeat of the conservative establishment has been pressuring Romney to pick Ryan for the VP slot. The question is whether Romney, having put forth few concrete proposals of his own, will adopt Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" as his de facto campaign platform.
If he does, this effort to energize the right wing of his party may end up a losing gamble. To win, Romney must still convince undecided moderates that he's the man to lead this nation for the next four years. Signaling approval for the policies that Ryan has, to his credit, honestly and openly championed, may make Romney's path to the White House rockier, rather than smoothing it.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.