Anyone who's watched the game "Texas Hold 'Em" knows the term "all in." When you're "all in," you're betting everything you've got on the hand you're holding.
Mitt Romney just went "all in" on economic conservatism with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick. He placed a bet that the American people want bold action on the national debt, Ryan's signature issue, even if that means making significant sacrifices.
There are other candidates who may have added more to the Romney ticket electorally, and who almost certainly would have posed less political risk to him. I argued in this space just last week for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as a long-shot pick. But no candidate could have defined the ticket as sharply as House Budget Committee chairman Ryan now does. In that, Romney's selection is a game changer.
Mitt Romney -- and the entire GOP -- knows the hits are coming. Those scoundrel Republicans want to cut everything, Democrats from coast-to-coast will say from now until Election Day. They'll take food away from our children, the wheelchair out from under grandma, and they'll invest our Social Security dollars in Halliburton and AIG -- all to help those greedy millionaires and billionaires.
Indeed, the charges are already arriving. Fewer than four hours after the Ryan choice was made public, here's a sampling of what one Democratic House member put out in a fund-raising appeal:
1. Paul Ryan wrote the House Republican budget that would end Medicare as we know it, increasing out-of-pocket costs for seniors by over $6,000 annually.
2. Paul Ryan's budget would give billionaires and millionaires tax breaks while increasing taxes on the middle class.
3. Paul Ryan would gut priorities for the middle class -- like Pell Grant scholarships for nearly 10 million students, clean energy investments that make America less dependent on foreign oil, and even
veterans' health care.
The Democrats will add to these specious attacks a hundred fold, because they can. Ryan issued an actual, detailed budget plan in March that calls for real cuts and real sacrifices to save the nation from effective bankruptcy. His plan would cut $5 trillion in federal spending during the next decade and lower the federal debt-to-GDP ratio from 100 percent to 200 percent by 2015 to allow businesses, which have to compete with the government for dollars on the credit markets, to grow again. The Democratic-led Senate, in contrast, hasn't proposed a budget in almost four years. The ruling Democrats have wagered that the American public will punish bold action. Romney-Ryan is taking the exact opposite bet.
You can say that Mitt Romney now owns every proposed budget cut Paul Ryan has made, but it would be more accurate to say that Romney has now taken ownership of those proposals, political risks be damned. He is trusting the American public to make a difficult, but informed, decision. As a political professional, I find that titillating.
President Barack Obama can now rail against Romney with a specificity he lacked before. And Romney can fire right back, "So what's your plan to save the country, Mr. President?"