"It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done before ..."

- Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities

Win one for the Gipper? No, actually lose one for him. With a Fox News poll last week showing Romney 9% behind among likely voters, his choice of the ultra-conservative Paul Ryan as his vice president assures that Romney will never be president. And he knows it.

What is Mitt Romney up to?

What diabolical scheme is afoot?

Bear with me as I explain the relationship between Mitt Romney and Sydney Carton, the self-sacrificing hero of A Tale of Two Cities.

Ryan's record, after seven terms as a congressman, is challenging: he's gotten two bills through Congress in the last 14 years - one naming a post office after a former Wisconsin congressman, the other lowering the excise taxes on archery arrows.

But, lame as it is, unfortunately for Republicans, that's not the record he'll be running on. Ryan's a numbers wonk, and his proposed budget, which Newt Gingrich described as "right-wing social engineering" (and who would know better), features reduced tax payments for the rich at the expense of lower- and middle-income families; it would slash Medicaid benefits for the poor and reduce Medicare funding so that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, "most elderly people would pay more for their health care," an average of $6,400 annually within a decade.

Food stamps and other programs that provide the safety net for the poor would be targeted to such an extent that Ryan, a strict Catholic when it comes to a woman's right to choose, has been criticized by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a public letter, a Jesuit priest serving as senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University, had this to say about Ryan's budget: "Survival of the fittest may be OK for social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love."

So while his ideas excite the Tea Party and their backers into a state of ecstasy, they have scant appeal for any remaining centrist Republicans. And independents, disappointed though they may be with President Obama, are hardly likely to rally behind this extremist ideology. Not to mention women, Hispanics and seniors. Add it up however you want and it's nigh impossible to see how Romney, after choosing Ryan, can get close to 50% of the vote, electoral or popular.

So how did it come to pass that Romney would write his own death notice?

In a moment, the calculation that went through the Bain brain.

But first, a little history: the emergence of the Tea Party gave the Republicans a victory in the 2010 mid-term elections. But while Tea Partyites are a fired-up, passionate element, they represent a narrow segment of the Republican Party, an aging, rural/small town, white middle-class element - a decreasingly small percentage of the American population compared to the multi-ethnic, urban, younger voter Obama appealed to.
Accordingly, while Tea Party members can do well in congressional races in Republican strongholds in the South and away from the coasts, they are too far right to draw off independent voters or disenchanted Democrats. Tea Party appeal, Ryan's greatest strength, can't win presidential elections. And so long as their acolytes provide the fervor in today's Republican Party, they doom it to a bystander role in presidential elections.

George W. Bush was a disaster as a president because of his foreign policy ignorance and the Cheneys and Rumsfelds he chose to compensate for it. But compared to this year's collection of non-entities - Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich - Bush Jr. was a pretty traditional Republican.

As was Romney. So the fact that the Republican establishment eventually rallied around silver-spoon-in-the-mouth Mitt showed that the party elders still had some influence; or perhaps it was that even the far right was embarrassed by their other options and could see a Goldwater-type disaster looming. Better to win with Mitt than lose with Michele.

So fast forward: Romney captures the nomination, faute de mieux. But his flip-flop history, his wooden demeanor, his foot-in-mouth trip abroad exploded geometrically with his "let-'em-eat-cake" pronouncements, and it quickly lost him and the Republican Party any hope of the presidency.

So, you're Mitt Romney: what to do? Choose a Portman or a Pawlenty, relative moderates, and watch, under your awkward candidacy, the Republican Party go down to defeat. And then the Tea Party - its emotional heroes, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, and its intellectual hero, Paul Ryan, all left at the gate - would use Romney's defeat to pick up the pieces and move the party even further right. Right into oblivion.

And Romney - you didn't realize he was so analytical? but that's exactly what earned him his quarter billion - could see it all coming. He could see the once moderate party of his father moving ever closer to the cliff, with Mitt himself leading the charge.

So how to turn today's inevitable defeat into tomorrow's glorious victory? How to go down with the ship, taking the ideological right-wing with you, while - mixing our metaphors a bit - managing to turn the Republican battleship a little left, ever so subtly away from its own death-wish?

In 1964, Barry Goldwater's fanaticism and inglorious defeat lopped off the extreme conservative wing of the Republican Party so that when Ronald Reagan emerged a decade and a half later as its standard bearer, his pragmatic brand of conservatism found wide appeal.

So now you get it. Now you understand why Romney decided to make Tea Party hero Ryan his veep pick: the Republicans will lose big; the Tea Party will be totally discredited; from its ashes will rise a more moderate, Reagan-style conservatism, rejuvenating the party, attracting independents and making it once again a serious contender. Romney, of course, is too modest to ever let on to his great sacrifice.

Which is why I've had to explain it to you.