The race to define Paul Ryan
August 12th, 2012
04:41 PM ET
9 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. Raven

    Well lets just hope if the GOP wins that Ryan can keep Romney s liberal socialist tenancies under control.

    Romney is more liberal than Obama in my book.

    August 12, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  2. Anonymous

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

    And succeeded to help bring Congress to a historically low 12% approval rating.

    "I'm a devout Catholic, how can you believe in that stuff? But I think her novels are thought-provoking."

    Thought provoking enough to not only mandate his staff read Ayn Rand's propaganda and - in his own mindset - to actually submit a budget which exactly mirrors Ayn Rands thought processes. Kudos to our United States House of Representatives for passing said budget AND Mitt Romney for approving said budget. It makes it that much easier to define "Republicans, thy name is Hypocrisy.

    August 12, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  3. Pander Bear

    "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's been there for 18 friggin' years Mr. Flip Flop. Do you even know the guy you chose?

    August 12, 2012 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  4. Pander Bear

    “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs.”

    August 12, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  5. ohio voter

    The Ryan choice really shows Romney's colors. What a dangerous choice for the country.
    If GOP seniors are not thinking of their children and grandchildren now they'd better start–
    ryan will make sure that with romney we have a society of the likes of Dickens' Great Expectations.
    There will be poor and rich and that's all.

    August 12, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  6. Pander Bear

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

    August 12, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    "Mitt Romney sought to portray his new running mate as a reluctant budget warrior who went to Washington to change the status quo."

    Good luck with those lies Mitt. How about the truth... "A career politician exploiting a right-wing niche by pandering to the rich and working to destroy Social Security and Medicare – all on the back of the middle-class."

    August 12, 2012 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  8. drake mallard

    Paul Ryan =the more things change the more they stay the same

    So how does a career politician get rich?

    answer budgeting the budget on the backs of the middle class

    Make Politicians Take a Pay Cut Before Cutting Money from Education and Social Services!

    Hey they should cut their own benefits and services. no more lifetime benefits for 4 years of service!
    They should NOT be getting lifetime health coverage when they have the money to pay on their own!

    Why Not Have congress/senate Paid By Minimum-Wage? Ban ALL forms of fundraising/lobbyist for any purpose. that is what has destroyed our government. Politicians have no idea what it means to live like the majority of americans, or the people they represent. maybe changing how they live might change their priorities

    George Romney resisted releasing a single year of taxes, arguing that it wouldn't present an accurate picture...but then he made a surprising offer: He would release the past 12 years of tax returns...That way, it wouldn't look like a stun

    August 12, 2012 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    Ryan has already defined himself as the author of extreme proposals for the remake of Medicare and Budget at the expense of seniors, students, women, and middle class.

    August 12, 2012 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  10. Larry L

    The Ayn Rand crowd always forgets critical facts – a "free market" can't exist when governments must get funded, when competing governments manipulate the markets, and when some citizens can never survive without their government's help. Not all capitalists will behave honorably and their greed requires regulations and laws to protect the working class. Some regulations are required for the general good of the population – public schools, environmental protection, highway and other infrastructure, a military, and protection from police, fire, and other public servants. Taxes, regulations and laws are required for a civilized government and a market "free' of these products of modern society simply can never exist.

    August 12, 2012 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  11. tkret

    Raven – How is Romney more liberal than obama?

    August 12, 2012 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  12. drake mallard

    Hey GOP, Grow a Backbone

    Cubans have enjoyed a status not accorded to any other immigrantgroup over time. In this work,Illegal Immigrants from Cuba: PreferentialTreatment

    Of course no republican will say anything about this as most cubans tend to vote republican

    Romney says he favors 'self-deportation

    other vs. Cubans: Is There A Double Standard On Illegal Aliens?

    August 12, 2012 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  13. Smeagel4T

    Ryan's already defined himself. Ryan isn't even a conservative, he's a right wing extremist as proven by his voting record:

    Paul Ryan pretends to care about the deficit, yet Paul Ryan voted to launch two wars without paying for them.

    Paul Ryan pretends to care about the deficit, yet Paul Ryan voted for the Bush tax cuts without paying for them.

    Paul Ryan pretends to care about the deficit, yet Paul Ryan voted for billions of dollars of tax dollar giveaways to Big Pharma without paying for them.

    What is Paul Ryan’s solution to the fiscal mess he helped make? His budget clearly spells it out. Destroy Medicare. Destroy middle class services and tax deductions. Use the money taken from the middle class to fund MORE tax cuts for the wealthy.

    Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have completely betrayed the conservative principle of fairness.

    August 12, 2012 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  14. Joe

    I'll define him right now: The AntiChrist for the American worker.

    August 12, 2012 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  15. GOP Hate America

    well now Obama really has my vote

    August 12, 2012 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  16. Papa

    Just another stuffed-shirt white boy with a hundred dollar haircut

    August 12, 2012 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  17. frank

    i define the man as a loser

    August 12, 2012 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    Isn't he self-defining? He has a BA from Miami. He never got over a sophmoric crush on cult crank Rand, and his education (so to speak) stalled out there. If his plan to privatize social security had been adopted by Bush Jr, untold thousands of impovershed seniors would now be living with their children or on the streets. Will he admit that in retrospect he was completely wrong? Why should any well-educated American give him the time of day? He should be low-hanging fruit for the Demos.

    August 12, 2012 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  19. winchester74

    Question: How many bills has Paul Ryan passed in his 13 years in Congress. Answer: 2 What were those bills ??? 1) renaming a post office 2) setting new standards for arrows used in archery - that's the full extent of Ryan's contribution to democracy.

    August 12, 2012 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Did he really drive the wiener mobile to put himself through college?

    August 12, 2012 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  21. PTBarnumboy

    Just what we need as VP – one of those crazy right wing, fanatic, congressmen who has earned the lowest disapproval rating of any congress in history. My way or the highway may make a great movie line but it's no way to run a country.

    August 12, 2012 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  22. Survey SAAAAAYS....

    Race to define Mr. Ryan? No you must be mistaken; I'm not racing to define him... I'm racing to find out his voting record and his views.

    So maybe instead of the media doing guesswork, assumptions and other crap, maybe you could STOP EDITORIALIZING for long enough to just tell us how he's voted as a Congressman, and for what bills.


    August 12, 2012 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  23. Michael Enfield

    Ryan-Romney: USA Sinks to new lows!!!

    August 12, 2012 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  24. dreamer96

    Jeb Bush was right to call out the current GOP party as too radical...and Grover NORman Quest showed his true colors, when he fired back right away, with his thinly veiled threat to destroy Jeb Bush's political career, and leave Jeb beat up in a dark alley somewhere...

    And who represents this new GOP plan...Paul Ryan...Harry Reid has shelved every bill from Paul Ryan that the House has passed and sent to the Senate...The were all bad for everyone in America, except the top 1%....

    Our Current GOP party has become the American Taliban Party, controlled by the top 1%..These Super PAC's will be the end of our democracy if we do not ban them...

    Capitalism controlled by the top 1% is too much like Communism controlled by the party leaders...When our government can be bought by a few billionaires that is not the government of the People, by the People anymore..

    August 12, 2012 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  25. pkbkr

    Is the best the Republican party can come up with? Sarah lite! Obama/Biden 2012

    August 12, 2012 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
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