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. southernwonder

    some say a mistake was made and became irreversible. romney had meant to mend fences with the libertarians and mr. ron paul, and had pick rand paul. there was some misunderstandibg. aaaaaaa...

    August 12, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Need help defining Ryan, well just think about how the most volunerable citizens are taken advantage of by a pimp selling them out to the highest bidder on Wall Street only for their own self serving purposes or a predator taking advantage of children. But they call it Ryan's Budget Plan instead.

    August 12, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  3. Lenny Pincus

    All you have to do to define Paul Ryan is to quote him. His words damn the politician.

    August 12, 2012 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  4. redleg56

    Ryan is willing to be Veep to the one man in America who wasn't sure that we should have hunted down and killed Bin Laden, a man who avoided military service but protested in favor of the draft and who has disowned his own signature when convenient.

    August 12, 2012 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  5. kevgood

    "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."

    What he really wanted to do was drive the Weinermobile lol.

    August 12, 2012 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  6. Skeptic

    What's Ryanhood? Screw the middle class.

    August 12, 2012 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  7. moriya2k2

    Ryan was defined a long time ago, He's not some yokel that came out of nowhere like Palin. His budget's been debated for almost a year now, even by the GOP.

    August 12, 2012 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  8. Discernment

    THE 'ROMNEY-RYAN' PAIR

    (1.) – NO substantive foreign policy experience.
    (2.) – NO U.S. military experience.
    (3.) – Both born into money and have no clue about life on the other side of the tracks.
    (4.) – Neither with solid experiences or friendships outside of their "perfect world".
    (5.) – Both are too cowardly to stand up to right-wing extremist within their own political factions.

    August 12, 2012 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  9. sck

    "The Feds paid for my education, but you can't have ANYTHING you slacker." -Paul Ryan

    August 12, 2012 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  10. jan

    Of the four or five paragraphs in discribing Ryan's CAREER AND EDUCATION only the LAST ONE deals with that. The previous paragraphs are all about his father and grandfather and what Ryan did when he was in high school. In the last paragraph we learned what University he attended and that he got a BA in Economics and minored in Politics. He then was nudged to go to Washington, where he wrote campaign speeches for politicians before winning election to Congress, of which he has been a member for 7 years. Other than a stint in the FAMILY BUSINESS where he was a consultant, he has NO BUSINESS EXPERIENCE. HE HAS NO FOREIGN POLICY EXPERIENCE. IN CONGRESS ALL HE DID WAS VOTE YEA TO HORRIBLE BUSH POLICIES AND FINALLY WROTE A BUDGE POLICY FOR THE 1%...AND SOMEHOW THAT QUALIFIES HIM TO BE ONE STEP AWAY FROM THE PRESIDENCY??!!!!!...Of course he qualified!!! Especially since a Black Man is President!!!!! Fred Flinstone, in all of his cartoon glory can be president now!!!! Roseanne Barr is out there now running!!!! Never mind that the Black President attended Harvard, was editor and President of the Harvard Law Review, and was a highly successful COMMUNITY ORGANIZER IN CHICAGO, among many other things. The credential of our Black President just doesn't seem to matter to many. All that matters is that he's Black!!! So Go Ryan Go!!!! Keep on keepin on Roseanne!!!! ....and who knows, FRED FLINSTONE JUST MIGHT BE JOINING THE RACE SOON!!!!

    August 12, 2012 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  11. Howard

    Axelrod rants about how Ryan's economic policies are DISASTEROUS, while he conveniently ignores the damage caused by his, and Obama's economic policies of the past 3 1/2 years ... including 15 Trillion dollars in debt, a credit downgrade, 8.3% unemployment, $4+ per gallon gas, raising costs for everything, and all, with no end in sight. What incredible dishonesty and hypocrisy !!! Also, with Obama and his surrogates making unfounded public claims and diahonest accusations, their credibility is seriously in question. Once a politician's credibility is gone, people can't believe ANYTHING they say !!!

    August 12, 2012 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  12. frank

    if the media does to ryan what they did to quale. ryan is through

    August 12, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  13. is

    it looks like paul ryan is the presidential candidate and mittens is running for dog catcher..

    August 12, 2012 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  14. Abeslom

    Paul Ryan is only one of the few congressmen who never released his tax returns. Is it a considence Mitt picked someone who also refuses to disclose his tax infomation??

    As a reminder: Cheney released 10 years of returns after he was named George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000. Sarah Palin released two years when she added to the John McCain ticket in 2008.

    August 12, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  15. Marie MD

    I see that the crowds are still small and this browman is just a tad less boring and maybe has a bit more of a personality than the flip flop
    The media (NBC), as always, forgot to mention the most important part of how this seniors hater was picked and wasted two to three minutes telling us how he traveled from Wisconsin to Hartford (boring!!).
    The story mentioned that the browman gave the twit's staff years of tax returns. Isn't this the same thing that the bully bishop is keeping away from the citizens who are supposed to trust him with those taxes that he continues to hide?

    August 12, 2012 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  16. Marc

    I would like to see Paul Ryan's tax returns please...

    August 12, 2012 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  17. putusabackontop

    Possibility of change or more of the same. Obama's had 4 years to move the needle and it hasn't flickered. He's out of ideas and out of time.

    August 12, 2012 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  18. jon

    Who cares. I used to be obsessed with politics. Then I realized that not matter my opinion, no matter how I felt, no matter how I voted the outcome was completely and totally out of my control. We have less than no control. Politics is it's own thing that operates on it's own without us. Politics is just a sport. It's a form of entertainment unless you are personally involved. Just like sports and entertainment politics can be interesting but it pointless. With or without you the system will continue as it pleases.

    August 12, 2012 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  19. lj

    The secrecy of choosing Ryan as a running mate was easy. Mittens is used to secrecy, he done it with his taxes for years.

    August 12, 2012 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  20. ohreally

    Romney told the people of Massachusetts in 94, " Trust me I paid my taxes in Massachusetts." But then three days before he went before the board to prove he was a resident of the state. He had to amend his taxes and pay to the state, because he in fact did not pay his taxes in the state and only paid in Utah. So yes his taxes are a valid issue.

    August 12, 2012 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  21. GSW Minnesota

    George? Really?

    Let me get this straight...teachers were a major cause of the financial meltdown that this country suffered? How long have you been avoiding reality? I am guessing that maybe you did not finish high school.

    August 12, 2012 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  22. ohreally

    Paul Ryan Medicare Killer is all I need to know about him and now Romney has fully embraced his plan, so there you have it. The Corporate Killer has teamed up with the Medicare Killer.

    August 12, 2012 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    His plan is not the only one. How come every Republican plan to take care of these programs means that the taxpayers who work all their lifes contributing to these programs will loose almost everything invested. The only people who gain are the 1% rich folks. Here's a better plan how about everyone pays only 1% contributions to SS and another 1% for Medicare and Medicaid the that would be 2% on all money earned in this country to pay for these programs. No matching employer contributions like it is now. That would be a huge tax break for the 99% of us. That would be a huge huge tax break for the real job creators who are mostly in the 99% of us. Just 2% of everything you make get rid of the caps. We would never ever have any money problems with these programs ever again. But of course the 1% of those rich people who buy our goverment from us 99% would never let that happen.

    August 12, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  24. Howard

    @CBR ... You're saying that Romney doesn't have a balanced ticket, because neither candidate has military credentials ??? ... Perhaps you consider a two bit community organizer,with no military credentials, who voted 'present' 127 times in the Senate, and spent TWENTY YEARS in an anti-American, racist church ... plus, a baffoon V.P., who's only accomplishment is tenure ... to be a balanced ticket. This kind of flawed thinking is why America is currently circling the bowl. Save America ... Romney & Ryan in 2012 !!!

    August 12, 2012 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  25. SALESMAN67

    Ryan and Mitt its time to bring American back! The fight will be tough but we need to bring america back!

    August 12, 2012 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
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