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. glades2

    Our country is doomed to fail if all we can do is insult those who run for office...

    August 13, 2012 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  2. Boo

    "42 years of age, Ryan has spent most of his adult life in Congress with little business or executive experience to speak of." – Reuters

    August 13, 2012 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  3. mike

    This guy wants to end mortgage interest deductions, which is one of the few things keeping the middle class afloat. Meanwhile, he wants to cut taxes for corporations and the super-wealthy. So...let me get this straight: we're supposed to back a man who wants to RAISE taxes for the middle class and CUT them for the elite, thereby screwing up our country's middle class even worse than it already is? You tea partiers should be ashamed. WAKE UP. You're being manipulated by a handful of very rich men who care only about their own enrichment. This isn't libertarianism, it's a cash grab. Stand up for your OWN interests...stop behaving like cattle.

    August 13, 2012 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  4. Independent

    How is Romney ( IF he wins) going to support endless wars run from military and line his pockets while he is hiding in France?

    August 13, 2012 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  5. cc423

    Personally I would like to take away Ryan's taxpayer funded insurance that is guaranteed for life and replace it with a voucher that requires him to buy hos own insurance through an insurance company that will charge him more for care and deny him and his family coverage for preexisting conditions.

    August 13, 2012 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  6. Ashton67

    Paul Ryan looks like the rest of the Republicans they held office or ran for office before him. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Sarah Palin and the crooks, thieves and liars list goes on. Mr. Ryan will fit right in with Mr. Romney's point of view- rob the poor and give to the rich. Paul Ryan said himself that he wanted to end Social Security and in a few well placed steps he wants to end Medcaid for the elderly. What a guy! To me, the G.O.P. has been all about S.0.B.'s that can't get enough money for themselves and their rich friends. Bailouts and rip-offs from the average American taxpayer for the big banks, big business and Wall Street billionaires is the creed and pledge of the Republican party and their past leadership has proven the creed true. Mitt Romney's lifestyle speaks loud and clear for himself, "Can't get enough, Can't take enough, Can't grab enough" which is a typical Republican at heart. I say, "enough is enough" with this politcal party that has robbed America and made it's people suffer because of their unrelenting greed. Mitt Romeny and Paul Ryan, the average American's worst nightmare! Help America to continue to climb out of the hole that Bush – Cheney dug it into – VOTE OBAMA – BIDEN 2012!!

    August 13, 2012 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  7. Nagrad

    Is he an Idealogue, or a budget-hawk? Those are not two mutually exclusive things. He can be a budget hawk who is driven by his idealogue mindset – which I think accurately describes Mr. Ryan. He has made it clear that he intends to "fix the budget" by essentially privatizing Medicare and gutting social programs (while extending tax cuts, including for the ultra-wealthy).

    I have no problem with individual initiative being rewarded. People with great ideas who work hard to create great products/companies SHOULD be rewarded for the blood, sweat, and tears they put into it. I DON'T think that it's too much to ask for them to pay a larger share of taxes to help the country that allowed their initiative and drive to succeed.

    I don't know about you, but I know a lot of people who work very hard and barely scrape by. The only difference between that person, and Mark Zuckerberg, is that Mark had a good idea he was able to capitalize on. They both work just as hard, but Zuck ends up a multi-billionaire, and 99% of everyone else ends up on food stamps because their minimum wage job doesn't allow them enough income to even survive.

    I'm not a socialist, but I do believe that our pay and incentive systems in the US are currently too skewed.

    August 13, 2012 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  8. Ashton67

    Paul Ryan looks like the rest of the Republicans they held office or ran for office before him. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Sarah Palin and the crooks, thieves and liars list goes on. Mr. Ryan will fit right in with Mr. Romney's point of view- rob the poor and give to the rich. Paul Ryan said himself that he wanted to end Social Security and in a few well placed steps he wants to end Medcaid for the elderly. What a guy! To me, the G.O.P. has been all about S * B s that can't get enough money for themselves and their rich friends. Bailouts and rip-offs from the average American taxpayer for the big banks, big business and Wall Street billionaires is the creed and pledge of the Republican party and their past leadership has proven the creed true. Mitt Romney's lifestyle speaks loud and clear for himself, "Can't get enough, Can't take enough, Can't grab enough" which is a typical Republican at heart. I say, "enough is enough" with this politcal party that has robbed America and made it's people suffer because of their unrelenting greed. Mitt Romeny and Paul Ryan, the average American's worst nightmare! Help America to continue to climb out of the hole that Bush – Cheney dug it into – VOTE OBAMA – BIDEN 2012!!

    August 13, 2012 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  9. Theend

    I saw where Paul Ryan said his veins run with cheese. I wonder what kind of cheese? Stick it to the working class Sharp Cheddar? Wealthy Blue (blood) cheese? Off-shore banking Swiss cheese? It's food for thought...

    August 13, 2012 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  10. 23 from Texas

    So now we get to see Ryan debate Biden? Poor old man will get flustered in his opening remarks against this powerhouse genius!

    Romney/Ryan 2012!

    We rock!

    August 13, 2012 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  11. DJ

    The economy is in the tank, so many people suffering. Crimes involving robbing and shooting/killing are on the rise due to the lack of work. And yet all some people care about is snooping into multiple years of peoples taxes??? Hoe is that going to solve this countries serious problems?? We have 2 men with excellent skills to get the economy going again, the jobs are more important than seeing extra years of a persons taxes!!!

    August 13, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  12. Rick1948

    Romney can kiss the senior vote, and the state of Florida, good bye. Ryan's whole budget concept is centered around screwing elderly Americans and taking away the Medicare and Social Security they have bought and paid for.

    August 13, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  13. Robert

    Barry Soetoro aka obama is a fraud and should be in prison not the white house. Show us your school records obama , what are you hiding ?

    August 13, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  14. Chig

    There is little difficulty in defining Paul Ryan. He is an "ideological . . . .budget warrior." Simply enough, after his father's death, Social Security helped pay for his education. In gracious return, Paul Ryan wishes a voucher system upon Social Security, in order to insure no similar recompense can be paid to any other in the future. For this, CNN other on line "mainstream" news sources warmly applaud him. GO PAUL!

    August 13, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  15. musings

    I suppose that in the run-up to the Iraq War – something which benefitted cronies of the Bush administration, who were paid in US tax dollars – Republicans may have believed that once they secured the oil, the war would pay for itself. But the premises of that argument were entirely socialistic, because how else do you put a resource like that into the hands of your puppet government in some other country without using force to deprive that nation of economic freedom? It was about collectivism: for the Iraqis. So you look at the bloated "defense" budget, overwhelmingly larger than anything Americans pay for out of their incomes, and you have to ask – why attack Social Security and Medicare as your first order of agenda? Why not go after the biggest drains on the public purse, which benefit a few rather than the many? At least with the programs of Medicare and Social Security, dollars are circulating in the US.

    The reason Republicans are going after them is that those social welfare programs are most difficult to structure so as to put a huge stream of offshore dollars into their own pockets. It doesn't advance the programs of the top oligarchy.

    But war in the Mideast? That is the thing which pays the Republican elite. And they can hide the benefits offshore.

    August 13, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  16. Peggy

    If you helped the Bush administration squander the surplus and blow up the federal budget, you don't get to be "outraged" about the budget deficit now or be touted as a "budget warrior".

    August 13, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  17. chas

    Too bad CNN didn't race to "define" Obama when he ran!

    August 13, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  18. Jeanise

    I sure hoope everyone who is able and registered to vote, take a look at what is going on here. They do want to take us to a time whne they were in charge and controloled everything, as if they don't today. These two guys do not care about any thing but power and the people who can give that to them. If you think these two guys care aobut the country for real then you are disillusioned. I have listened to Paul Ryan as well as Mitt roomney they both wnat to appease those with all the money so they will continue to have all the money and when they destroy our country they will move ot other countries where they keep their accounts. One thing there is no question so is that President Obama does care for the people and our individual liberties not like these guys who care only for theirs and those with the money to support them, President Obama gets most of his money from the people, like it is supposed to be, Mitt roomney gets his from those who benefit from his ideas. Wake up people, this will be the most important election of our lives, do we really want to trust these guys with our lives. they don't care and nothing in either one of their records dictate that. Roomnyey is such a liar, this guy rRyan went to work in Washington because he wanted to be President one day. roomney and the right wing, I am not talking aobut the woman or man who is struggling like me but thos in power. they don;'t wan us to do better. they just want to continue to take and take until there is nothing left to take. Chack out ryans reco0rd and see where he ever did anything to help pass a law to help anyone but the weathy. the rich will be poor before they are through only the weathy like Roomney will be left. Mark my world.

    August 13, 2012 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  19. Phil muse

    "(Paul Ryan's) career ambition was never to go to Washington.... He went their to change minds." What a whopper that is, Mitt Romney! Ryan has never had a job outside of politics, unless you count a summer job driving an orange-and-brown weenie wagon.

    August 13, 2012 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  20. Really?

    @ What?
    Enjoy the GOP koolaid

    At this point the GOP koolaid looks much more refreshing than the collec ti vist poison.

    August 13, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  21. dialogos68

    With failed policies from the White House expect a scorched Earth agenda from the Left this fall. Class and racial warfare to the extreme. All the while a Democrat controlled senate tries to stop an audit of the corrupt and privately owned Federal Reserve after congress passed Ron Paul's audit legislation 319 votes to 97. BTW, the Tea Party congress is working!

    August 13, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  22. Mark of Tennessee

    They both suck!! GO OBAMA!!!

    August 13, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  23. ThatsIt121

    At least Romney/Ryan are putting ideas out there. All the Obama team has put out is a bunch of low balled garbage adds. Speaks volumes of how he runs his administration.

    August 13, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  24. oldpatriot

    ______ is a deeply partisan creature of Washington – can be applied to any politician in washington, Ryan is no exception and neither is Romney, Biden or Obama. The democrats are 100% on the war path, ready tp smear anyone who would be Romney VP pick. The fools who help them dont realize or dont want to accept that they are all the same – ORomney or Rombama – they are all liars, thieves and swindlers and to believe otherwise is to a blind fool

    August 13, 2012 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  25. KJ

    I'm voting for whoever is cutting the bloated military budget the most.

    August 13, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
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