The first thought I had this morning when I saw Paul Ryan being introduced as Mitt Romney's running mate was of Dan Quayle, vice president under George H.W. Bush.
Nearly 24 years ago to the day, Bush presented Quayle as his presumptive running mate at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. Bush, of course, had been Ronald Reagan's vice president for eight years and was running more or less as the Gipper's substitute.
And, consequently, he benefited from Reagan's popularity.
But his choice of a running mate was widely criticized. Quayle, who was only about a year younger than Ryan is today, was bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm, yelping and squealing like a kid on a sugar high. Even some Republicans found it difficult to swallow.
In fact, none other than Ed Rollins, who managed Reagan's re–election campaign in 1984, lamented that the convention "was supposed to be [Bush's] showcase week," but that "got stomped on" by the selection of Quayle.
Initially, Ryan reminded me of Quayle, doing a little whooping and cheerleading as he walked to and then stood before a microphone. But, as he got into his remarks, it was clear that Ryan is no Dan Quayle. In comparison to Quayle, Ryan could be judged a success if he simply gets through his acceptance speech with a little maturity — and he showed more than a little of that in his introduction this morning.
In fact, Joe Biden is likely to realize rather quickly — probably well in advance of the vice presidential debate in a couple of months — that Ryan is no Sarah Palin, either. Palin's lack of knowledge on key issues was widely ridiculed, but nothing remotely like that could be said of Paul Ryan.
Ryan, wrote Michael Barone and Chuck McCutcheon in the 2012 Almanac of American Politics, "is regarded as an intellectual leader in the GOP for his unrivaled influence on fiscal matters."
Speaking of debates, Quayle made the observation in his debate with Lloyd Bentsen that his congressional career was as lengthy as John F. Kennedy's when he was elected president — which was almost, but not quite, correct and gave Bentsen the opening for his famous line that Quayle was "no Jack Kennedy."
(Ryan's congressional service actually does match Kennedy's in length.)
The Bush–Quayle ticket went on to win that 1988 election in spite of Quayle, but it was a different time, and no one yet knows the kind of impact Ryan may or may not have on the race. True, the Democrats led in the polls when both running mates were announced, but Bush overcame that during the general election campaign.
Romney doesn't face the kind of mountain to climb that Bush did, but he doesn't have the benefit of being a member of a successful lame–duck president's team, either.
Romney's task is just the opposite — to make the case that the Obama administration has been a failure — and Ryan seemed well qualified to make that argument.
No, Paul Ryan is no Dan Quayle. And he is no Sarah Palin.