But if Romney chooses Ryan — if he makes this the “big election over big issues” that the Wall Street Journal editorial page wants — then his loss will be their loss as well. He’ll still be blamed, of course. But the fact will remain that he took conservative counsel, adopted conservative ideas, named a conservative hero as his vice president, ran on the Ryan budget, and lost to a liberal. The right will not be able to pretend they weren’t on the ticket. They will have chosen the ticket. The right will not be able to say Romney ran a cautious campaign. They will have cranked his campaign’s strategy up to 11.
What’s less clear is what conservatives get out of the deal, save the opportunity to see Ryan debate Joe Biden. If Ryan is named to the ticket and the ticket loses, the loss will discredit the Ryan budget, and empower those in the Republican Party who want to pivot back to the center. Whereas conservatives have some chance of winning the intraparty argument if Romney/Portman loses — “we shouldn’t have nominated the insincere moderate,” they’ll say — they have little chance of arguing that the Republican Party simply didn’t run hard enough on the Ryan budget if Romney/Ryan loses.