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. Jeanise

    Stop telling that lie that Obama cut 500 or 700 billion form Medicare, you change the total depending on the audience. He did not cut he added more programs and added more benefits for seniors. PAUL RYAN wants to follow his allies and cut all the social programs period why not tqalk aobut that, tell some truths sometime, instead of lying on our President that is the only way you put him on the spot is to lie. That is all you all do about President Obama is lie and those with no knowledge believe you and share it like it is the gospel. You people are such hypocrites.

    August 13, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  2. mike

    Why are we acting like the VP truly matters? Yes, if Romney were elected and died, we'd have to deal with him as the president, and that probably wouldn't be good. But at the same time, would we be happy with Biden as president? I sure wouldn't. Can you name one single thing Biden has done (aside from media/campaign appearances)? Ryan being VP won't suddenly cause his budget reform to pass. He isn't the harbinger of armageddon that liberals are making him out to be. He's just another guy in a suit.

    August 13, 2012 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  3. Bill Davis

    I love it when Obama give taxpaers money away for vote........till Ii get the tax bill, as the country sinks deeper into debt the party is still going on...

    August 13, 2012 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  4. Josh

    The only thing going for him are his looks and deception

    August 13, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  5. Earnest T Bass

    To David Glen: Whats the problem with equal opportunity but not equal outcome? In your equal chance at becoming a great lawyer given the same chances at the same school but you fail because you failed to put forth the efforts to get higher grades where I did and I got the great lawyer job and you didn't You consider this unfair? I find you stunningly misinformed.

    August 13, 2012 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  6. Educated

    If you are looking for less separation between church and state, overpopulation, gentrification and destroying the middle class, vote for Romney/Ryan. Both only care about appealing to the GOP base and using their moral ideals to impose law on the rest of us. Obama may not be perfect, but he is not what most make of him (with negative comments). The Economy is slow because the house is controlled by the GOP and it is almost impossible to pass anything. Universal healthcare, though flawed currently, is a must. The top has been screwing over the rest of us for too long. If you want this country to be based on technology advancement, education and work... vote Obama.

    August 13, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  7. johnmenacherjr

    So how many Norquist pledges has These two signed to??? And talk about and insider, what a joke 2 of these are one totla ideologue and the other well what caqn what say about those marvelous job creators! Niether will be doing anything at all for the middle class.

    August 13, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  8. Mike

    He voted twice to lift the embargo on cuba, he wants to put the burden on seniors......How will he win Florida?

    August 13, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  9. thinksense1

    Ryan's doing pretty well so far from what I've seen. Are there things I don't like about his budget plan? Yes, of course there are but I like his plans more than I do Obama's and definitely more than I like Obama care. Ryan is not out of touch with reality, he's had to work crap jobs like all of us did at one point. All these accusations about him not caring about women, gays, vets, and seniors is a joke. Ryan understands that if the deficit isn't dealt with immediately it'll only get WORSE. Get your heads out of the sand and tighten your belts like everyone else is going to have to. We didn't get this way in ten years.

    August 13, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  10. DP

    Reps keep uttering "spending within your means" words when in fact they don't understand that themselves. They initiate wars, massive debt and unemployment. Paul Ryan is chosen to "balance the budget" and pay for it by cutting all necessary and sensible spending.

    August 13, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  11. hypatia

    He's easily described, but not in words any lady would use publicly.

    August 13, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  12. Steve O'Leary

    I dislike Obama, he is almost owned by certain special interests. At least though, we haven't intensified our war with Iran.

    But the Romney-Ryan, is a RailRoad built to destroy America. We need jobs here, as well as industrial production and education. Working Americans, those that actually produce products, are on the sidelines.

    Why not build the United States infrastructure for our children?
    In the past, we did so both with the Interstate highway system, space-electronics-technology... resulting in positive growth.

    Today, what is needed? First suggestions would be a high speed, environmentally friendly transportation system. Our current infrastructure needs repair, why not go one further.. modernize it at the same time. Broad regional job creation would be its result as well as preparing for tomorrow. Connect cities with high speed transport: Think outside the box.

    In the mediums of interstate highways, build vactrains: see wiki article vactrain

    August 13, 2012 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  13. NorCalMojo

    He's one of the best debaters on fiscal policy and he's trusted by the base. Adults will admit he's a good pick and will raise the debate. With so many empty slogans being thrown around, that's going to impress a lot of people.

    Partisans are boring and turn intelligent people off.

    August 13, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  14. fryuujin

    all he is doing is telling the chumps what they want to hear in order to stay in power, where he works for the special interests and rich to take your money (current and future) and redistribute it to the rich. same old same old.

    August 13, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  15. Hawkeye-SC

    How about those college records Barry!?

    August 13, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  16. Hawkeye-SC

    How about those college records?!

    August 13, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  17. topconservative

    I'm not sure what an ideologue is but all I need to know is that he is a religious nut catholic. That plus a mormon!!?? "nuff said.

    August 13, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  18. 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 GOP has been all about SOBs 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 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  19. susansbaker

    Many know Ryan's family owned construction business but don't know the fact that most of the business was from the federal gov't projects. In he other word, with the help of the "big gov't" to support the families, according to the Washington Post.

    August 13, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  20. B

    Val, you do realize it is Congress that creates legislation that brings about change right? This isn't a dictatorship....

    August 13, 2012 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  21. Bman

    America wants to give the bankers a haircut. Romney want to give america a haircut instead. We all know he's a great barber he learned how to give haircuts in High School.

    August 13, 2012 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  22. The Left Wing

    Ryan is dangerous because he is both an ideologue and a budget warrior. When you believe that humans should only be concerned about themselves and are willing to fight to implement the law of the jungle, you are dangerous and as Catholics have pointed out anti-Christian.

    August 13, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  23. GG

    I love the pick.. Ryan is just what this country needs right now. And he has executive hair vs executive hair plugs :)

    August 13, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  24. Earnest T Bass

    Way to go Val!

    August 13, 2012 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  25. Joan

    The GOP has not done a thing to help Obama bring the economy back. They have the majority in the house for almost 2 years. They said they can do better than Obama. What have they done? Rommey has been campaigning to become President for Many, Many years now. Yet he does not have an concrete workable economic, medical, security plan as yet. Woh... this is crazy people. If you want the top job of the World so badly you should at least know how you are going to do it. All these people do over and over again is talk about Obama not doing nothing. Yet they do not have a plan to something.

    August 13, 2012 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
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