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Romney Needs to Find a Fighter

 

"Lincoln remained silent for what seemed a very long time. He then gathered himself up in his chair and said in a tone of earnestness that I shall never forget: 'I can't spare this man; he fights.'"

-- Alexander McClure, Pennsylvania politician and Lincoln biographer, writing of President Lincoln's response when McClure urged him in 1862 to discharge Gen. Ulysses Grant who was seen as a political rival to the first-term president.

The knock on Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate is that he is too bold -- too audacious in his budget cutting, too unstinting in his description of the nation's fiscal challenges, too ideological.

These things also happen to be the very selling points of Mr. Ryan's many admirers at places like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and The Weekly Standard. The big thinkers on the right like Ryan because his policies are bold and he has envisioned a new era of limited government for the nation.

The battle over Ryan in the GOP has been whether Romney should risk having the House Budget Committee chairman's fiscal blueprint, including transforming Medicare into a voucher program, draped over the campaign like a wet blanket. Conservatives say Romney should embrace the idea of an ideological clash with President Obama since Romney has already embraced the Ryan plan. Moderates say don't give the Democrats any more ammunition

But that misses the point. The danger with Ryan isn't that he's too bold on paper, it's that he's too mild in person.

A sustained character assault by the Obama campaign and its allies have taken a serious toll on Romney, who now trails the president by 9 points in the latest FOX News poll. Worse, Romney's favorability ratings are falling. The Obama effort to define Romney as a man lacking the character to hold the presidency is taking hold.

When the most shocking attack of the cycle occurred this week -- an accusation by the Obama-backed political action committee that Romney was complicit in the 2006 death of a Kansas City woman -- Romney could not rouse himself to any anger or indignation.

Anger and indignation are mostly unhelpful things when it comes to decision-making. Wrath and pride cloud judgment. But they can be indispensable when it comes to politics. A candidate who lacks them will be seen as weak, not restrained.

Romney is selling a sobersided brand of managerial skill. His argument is that he may not send any thrills up your leg, he will be a steady hand on the tiller in a turbulent time. A man such as that wouldn't lose his cool just because someone made a salacious charge. A man such as that would never lose his cool. It would be un-presidential. Un-Romney.

This current crisis in the nation, though, isn't like the one that vaulted Richard Nixon into the White House in 1968. The clamor in the electorate is not for someone who can bring calm and order, but for someone who will throw the moneychangers out of the temple. Just as in the past two election cycles, the cry is for reform, for smashing the status quo, and in 2010, for a righteous anger.

The deepening national pessimism about the American government and economy reflects a frustration across the political spectrum that things do not work anymore. As Peggy Noonan wrote today, the fear is that the whole nation is slouching toward California's fate: economically stalled, ungovernable, broke and getting broker.

Conservatives say that Ryan's bold budget plan is just the antidote to the Californication of America, and just the big idea to change the national direction. But Ryan speaks gravely and earnestly. He can make a deep dive on policy and mount a vigorous defense of his ideas.

But he makes the argument coolly. His pale blue eyes search his listener's face, his voice cracks just a bit when he speaks of his children's fiscal future. And when demagogued, Ryan can respond with facts, conviction and a restrained passion.  

Very moving, but coupled with Romney's cool managerial style, the Republican ticket would look like a pair of German software executives: Precise, controlled and icy.

Romney shouldn't fear Ryan for his budget plan. Romney will pay the price and reap the benefits of that plan whomever he picks. Romney should be worried, though, about the growing gap between him and the middle-class voters who will decide the election.

These voters have a very real sense that the America they love is washing away under their feet. They are unhappy with Obama, but they are also unhappy with what they believe is the rapacity of Wall Street and bankers. They believe that the current political/economic system is rigged against them.

Just as Obama chose an emissary to those voters in 2008 in Sen. Joe Biden, Romney now needs someone who can relate to these folks and to whom they can relate. He also desperately needs an attack dog. He needs someone who isn't afraid to show his righteous indignation.

The voters Romney is chasing are mad as hell, and his ticket should reflect that he shares their sentiments, even if he is too cool to show it himself.

The only two on the putative short list of running mates who fit that bill seem to be Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. They've both got plenty of potential downsides for Romney, but they also have the indispensable thing: they will fight.

And Now, A Word From Charles

"But the key number here is favorable numbers.  Romney's have dropped by about five or six and the unfavorables have risen by five or six. That is the "kill Romney campaign," to quote a memo leaked in August of 2011. And it is working.  It is all about an attack on him, and they make it into Gordon Gecko who now, as we know, kills the wives of workers in his plants. And that's having an effect.  There's no question."

-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier."

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.