The race to define Paul Ryan
August 12th, 2012
04:41 PM ET
2 years ago

The race to define Paul Ryan

High Point, North Carolina (CNN) - Ask Sarah Palin. It happens every campaign cycle. And now, the race to define Rep. Paul Ryan has begun.

At two separate events in North Carolina Sunday, Mitt Romney sought to portray his new running mate as a reluctant budget warrior who went to Washington to change the status quo.

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"His career ambition was not to go to Washington. That is not what he wanted to do," Romney said about Ryan at a rally in Mooresville.

"He went there to change minds," the presumptive GOP nominee added about his running mate in High Point.

Ryan's biography diverges from the narrative that Romney offered. After graduating from college in 1992, Ryan went to work in Washington as a Congressional aide and staff member for a conservative political group. He lived and worked in the nation's capital until 1997, when he returned to Wisconsin to run for Congress. He's represented Wisconsin in the House since 1998.

Romney's comments appeared designed to neutralize criticism from Democrats that Ryan, who was elected to Congress at age 28, is a deeply partisan creature of Washington.

To match an image with its message, the campaign agreed Sunday to a People Magazine photo shoot outside one North Carolina event, according to a pool report. The shoot featured Romney and his wife Ann standing alongside Ryan's wife and young children. On Saturday, a Romney aide tweeted out pictures of the 42-year-old vice presidential candidate's grade school-age children of playing on the campaign bus.

A senior Romney adviser brushed off the coming attacks coming from Democrats.

"They're going to do whatever they can to dirty him up," Romney's strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said before the High Point rally.

The Obama campaign's Ryan offensive shifted into overdrive during the Sunday morning talk shows.

"I think that [Obama] thinks that he is a perfectly genial and bright guy," Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod said on CNN's State of the Union.

"I mean, Congressman Ryan is a right-wing ideologue, and that is reflected in the positions that he's taken," Axelrod added.

The swift and pointed jabs at Ryan stood in stark contrast with the caution shown by Obama strategists in 2008 to a then-unknown Palin. John McCain's running mate would go on to define herself.

The Obama campaign and its liberal allies are moving with haste to fill in its selection of details this time around mainly because Ryan has a lengthy and sometimes controversial record. The Wisconsin congressman ascended to the role of chairman of the House Budget Committee due in large part to his willingness to confront the looming insolvency issues plaguing Medicare and Social Security.

Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" proposes a partially privatized Medicare program for future seniors. Instead of automatic enrollment in the government health care program for seniors, Ryan would give older Americans the option of buying into Medicare approved plans with "premium support" payments or vouchers, as Democrats have described them.

"Where's their plan?" Fehrnstrom asked in reference to the Obama campaign's proposals to bring down the deficit. The Romney campaign has also answered the barrage by accusing the president of seeking to gut Medicare to pay for his health care plan, a charge Democrats vehemently deny.

Liberal activists have insisted Ryan's fiscal hawkishness stems from a fascination with the Russian-American novelist, Ayn Rand.

The controversial 20th century author - who wrote "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" - was a fierce critic of Social Security and other safety net programs.

"It is precisely these trends which are bringing the world to disaster because we are now moving towards complete collectivism or socialism," Rand told CBS's Mike Wallace in a decades old interview that remains popular among fans of the author.

Ryan once recorded a campaign video touting Rand as someone who "more than anyone else has done a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism."

Speaking about the Obama administration, Ryan added in the video: "And I think a lot of people would observe we are right now living in an Ayn Rand novel, metaphorically speaking."

Last summer Ryan told CNN's Gloria Borger that any talk of an obsession with Rand was a "canard."

"You know I read her novels when I was young, I thought they were good, they were good at defending free markets and free enterprise. Her philosophy is kind of a ridiculous one in my opinion, objectivism. I'm a devout Catholic, how can you believe in that stuff? But I think her novels are thought-provoking."

Fehrnstrom dismissed the discussion about Ryan's views on Rand as a youthful interest in a provocative philosopher.

"Every young conservative has a fascination with Ayn Rand at some point," Fehrnstrom said.

Less known about Ryan's record is that he once opposed the trade embargo on Cuba, a position that may surprise leaders in the traditionally Republican exile community in Miami.

As the Miami Herald reported Sunday, the Wisconsin congressman was an upfront critic of the embargo up until late 2008 when he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "If we're going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?"

Ryan has since changed his position, a reversal that appears to satisfy Cuban American congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-FL.

"He was a free-trader and we explained to him the human-rights and terrorist record of the Cuban dictatorship," Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald. "His record ever since is one of a strong supporter for freedom in Cuba. He is a strong ally."

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Filed under: 2012 VP Pick • Paul Ryan • Sarah Palin
soundoff (552 Responses)
  1. MightyMoo

    Republicans just want to cut spending, Democrats seem to be cutting some spending and want revenue increases from taxes to help pay for things. Happy medium would be cut spending and raise revenues with taxes to pay down the debt. I see that more from the left then the right at this time. Especially since the left is more willing to go after people paying less taxes then the guy working a 9-5 job.

    August 13, 2012 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  2. Charles

    I can't remember any articles trying to define Joe Biden during the 2008 elections. Whether democrats are successful or not, you cannot argue the point that they fear Paul Ryan.

    August 13, 2012 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  3. John

    Romney still needs to release his tax returns. Ryan is a smoke screen

    August 13, 2012 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  4. iceload9

    If anyone who's not independently wealthy believes they're anything but a number on a spreadsheet to two trust fund babies is kidding themselves.

    August 13, 2012 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  5. G-Man64

    Better a right wing ideologue than an outright Marxist.

    August 13, 2012 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  6. Dino

    The whole Republican plan is to pull as much as they can out of the currency system then tell us how to get it back nickel by nickle using their plan. Trickle down economics is a failed policy, it wont work and neither will Ryan.

    August 13, 2012 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  7. Great Combo

    Nice, The guy who just fired your dad and the guy who just turned off your grandpa's life support decided to get together to run for president!

    August 13, 2012 07:39 am at 7:39 am |
  8. ROMNEY 2012!!!!!

    Finally, a candidate that will wipe out the charity programs (Social Security, Medicare etc...) that are draining our country's wealth.

    ROMNEY 2012

    August 13, 2012 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  9. jim atmad

    Paul Ryan defined himself with his heartless plan to take Medicare away from people like my younger sister. She has paid into the system for decades, and when she'll need it, it won't be there. Her preexisting condition will make it impossible to get coverage on the voucher that Ryan wants to give her.
    So her choices, if her condition flares up again, will be to go broke trying to treat herself and then die, or just die.
    After all of the false caterwauling about Death Panels from the right, the Ryan Plan will be the ultimate Death Panel for tens of thousands of people who find them in my sister's situation.

    August 13, 2012 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  10. acura2010

    Bush rewarded the banks with bailouts! And they still making risky bets! Bad behavior!

    August 13, 2012 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
  11. Pepou

    Ryan is as frightening as his program which threatens to destroy our country as we know it. These two characters (Romney and Ryan) are the worst.

    August 13, 2012 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
  12. Tom

    Why are these guys even bother throwing us their pitch lines? The Electoral college “handpicked” members already decided who they are going to vote for. It’s likely they have already selected these two rich kids to be the puppets for the 5% and dance before us with BS! If you don’t want any more of these organized politics playing games with OUR nation, do not vote for either one of these parties. Use your feel good check box to say we don’t want EITHER party on OUR government anymore! Vote for someone who isn’t in either two of these crime families.

    August 13, 2012 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  13. ptny

    Romney never had a plan of his own tat he would even speak of. He desperately needed to find anyone with an "IDEA" a plan.

    Any plan that Romney could jump on he did. Looks like it's going to be Ryan's (IDEA; an idea arises in a reflex, spontaneous manner, even without thinking or serious reflection) plan.

    To me, it makes Romney look even more incompetent then before.

    August 13, 2012 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  14. tcaros

    He's a SHILL for the rich, he's of small intellect, small human feelings, and very dangerous.

    August 13, 2012 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  15. Axxe

    Paul Ryan will destroy Medicare, The elderly and the middle class.

    August 13, 2012 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  16. MJ

    Paul Ryan is a socialist, plain and simple. The race exists between two socialists, one radical (Obama) and one not-so-radical (Romney). Americans are screwed either way.

    bit . ly / QVgkxW

    August 13, 2012 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  17. TL

    ARE all you People really this stupid? Everyone is saying Ryan want's to grow the government...WHAT? Obama has grown the government beyond sustainability! Paul Ryan is the first real politician to even start to tackle the over blown budget problems! Yes it’s going to hurt everyone! BUT, and here is the key, if we don’t tackle it now and let Obama blow it up even more for another term; THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT!! If Obama continues on his current path, Medicare will be gone taken over by Obamacare, Social Security will fold completely under. We must stop the bleeding before we can cure the problems. Ryan is trying to stop the bleeding. I say cut spending across the board by 15%!! Then Term limits! Anyone that has been in Washington more than one term is no longer the solution, they are the problem! Mandatory balanced Budget, if budget isn’t balance Congress doesn’t get paid! Want to bet they wouldn’t fix it then? Lastly, anything they vote on applies to them as well. No more exemptions for anything or for anyone!!!

    August 13, 2012 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  18. Facts R Facts

    Paul Ryan = End Medicare = Vouchers for Health Insurance Companies = the REAL Death Panels.
    You trust health insurance bureaucrats to care for your grandparents?

    August 13, 2012 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  19. Conrad Shull

    Without the slightest sense of irony, the strategy of a left wing ideologue is to portray an opposition candidate as a right wing ideologue.

    August 13, 2012 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  20. Faber McMullen

    Where is the democrat's plan. Oh wait....................... THEY DON'T HAVE ONE AND THEY NEVER HAVE HAD ONE. THEY CRITICIZE AND SPREAD HATE. It's time for something positive. I'm in for Mitt and Ryan.

    August 13, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  21. ernie

    I do not believe that he was a good choice. I am afraid that Obama has just won the election. I will vote for Romney. But the way I look at it is this : worse case scerino... we only have to put up with Obama for 4 more years and he is gone forever. So is America, but we can rebuild all he has torn down. Maybe he and Michelle will leave us a little money. pityful

    August 13, 2012 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  22. smcole

    Ryan... used social security from his father, yet wants to end it for the rest of us.
    Ryan... gets gov't health care as a congressman for life, yet wants us to make do without.
    Ryan... worships Ayn Rand for her stance on social security/medicare and other socialistic policies, but chooses to ignore that Ayn Rand took both social security AND medicare for herself and her husband.
    Ryan...is a hypocrite

    August 13, 2012 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  23. TheFatherofLies

    Paul Ryan: "I grew up on Ayn Rand... that's what I tell people. [It} taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff"

    Ayn Rand quotes: "Faith is a sign of a psychological weakness . . . I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire, above the evidence of what your mind knows. That’s what you’re doing with the idea of God."

    "Man's standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man's power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith. The purpose of man's life is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question."

    This won't go over well with religious conservatives. Ryan will have some hot coals to walk on when the press gets around to reminding people of these and similar statements by Mr. Ryan.

    August 13, 2012 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  24. MBane

    George, bail outs were a necessity to prevent total collapse. You can't let everything fail and re-build itself because that would take decades upon decades. What put us here was deregulation, wars and tax cuts. No one seems to complain about that but they complain about what was needed to put a stop to the free fall we were on.

    August 13, 2012 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  25. RICHARD

    ROMNEY just lost the election! Ryan is a boat anchor, not an asset. The campaign has been lost. If anyone was on the fence, they've just been pushed off into Obama's lap.

    Balancing the budget involves drastic cuts in military spending. The Navy alone is bigger than the next 17 nations combined. Do we really need THAT MUCH protection? I don't think so, do you? The money saved from military spending can be used for public infrastructure improvements, social programs and reduction of the budget. What a concept – turn swords into plow shares.

    but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

    August 13, 2012 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
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