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. winstonsmith

    "His career ambition was not to go to Washington. That is not what he wanted to do."

    Ironic considering he's spent his entire career in Washington. Actually, that kinda statement would make more sense for Romney, a man who spent the majority of his life in the private sector.

    August 12, 2012 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  2. thinksense1

    I think that if drastic measures aren't taken immediately to cut the deficit that more than just seniors will end up suffering badly. It's better to tighten our belts now than running from the problem until America can't run from it any longer.

    August 12, 2012 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  3. Lennoxvale

    F about sums it up!

    August 12, 2012 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  4. tm1946

    We all have opinions, some informed, some un-informed. We will be able to vote and decide very soon.

    I just hope after the election, there is some ability to compromise by Demo and Rep. If not, it really does not matter who wins the presidency.

    May I end with people like Xman have drawn a line in the sand and seem willing to let it be ground in the dust while carrying Obamas coal. A lot of parroting by demos, what are you going to do after the election. Trusting Obama seems less than satisfying, but that is just me.

    August 12, 2012 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  5. zzzzz

    The guy that has succeeded with " handouts" in his words from SS and government, and has never worked substantially any where outside of goverment, want to kill Social Security, MC and MA.
    And already has voted and passed bills reducing education opportunities, subsidies or loans to students.
    If it was not for his scholarship he would not have finish Univ. of Ohio.
    And the "son of Wisc.", had problems one of the best Univ. system in Wisc., and left the state for Ohio.
    And the "double standards" do not stop there ...

    August 12, 2012 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  6. Jax Wolff

    Why would republicans like Paul Ryan? He admires Ayn Rand, a pro-choice atheist.

    August 12, 2012 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  7. Cindy

    After watching TV tonight, it is clear that Ryan will head the ticket. Romney will be a paper President, in name only. He has already deferred the budget to Ryan. It was true when Romney announced him as the next President of the United States. Ryan is a Grover Norquist boy, and Grover said on TV he only needs a President who can hold a pen. Romney screwed up and Grover replaced him. Grover Norquist has more power than the Supreme Court.

    August 12, 2012 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  8. dahditdah

    Congressman Ryan is a career politician that plays to the money with an eye to getting a big chunk of it himself. In other words, a typical Republican, well suited to shill for his 'betters' until he can be one himself.

    August 12, 2012 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  9. Sven

    This election is over.... Congrats Mr. Obama

    August 12, 2012 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  10. GTA

    Do you suppose that Ryan has been coached to use the phrase "back on track" as much as possible?
    During the 60 Minutes interview this evening, he must have said it ten times.
    For a guy who claims to be more about policy than ideology, Ryan sure seems to have adapted to the GOP practice of being long on slogans and short on practical ideas. I think I saw this same movie four years ago....

    August 12, 2012 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  11. ptw

    It's pretty weird: Ryan has an image amongst conservatives that the MSM is accepting whole cloth, but his record shows that he's the opposite. For example, he's portrayed as a deficit hawk/fighter, and yet he voted for all sorts of irresponsible spending and tax cuts under the Bush Admin that caused the debt to skyrocket, then voted against proposals that would cut spending and reduce the deficit. In both cases he did it for pure political ideology/expediency/ambition.

    He's just another ambitious, hypocritical politician.

    August 12, 2012 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  12. will never vote Republician again

    Romney/Ryan ticket = Greed and Hate

    August 12, 2012 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  13. Michael J

    Paul Ryan and his screw you America Plan is not what we need, TAKE Romney HOOD with you

    August 12, 2012 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  14. bigfoot

    I'll define him for you right now. In TWO WORDS: Ayn Rand. Enough said.

    August 12, 2012 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  15. nolimits3333

    Paul Ryan wants to kill Medicare and Social Security and lower taxes for the rich(capital gains) to zero.

    Robbing from the old and the sick to give to the super rich.

    August 12, 2012 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  16. Najie

    " Ummm......Hey liberals...........Did you know.........Paul Ryan was elected/reelected in a DEMOCRATIC district in Wisconsin 7 TIMES!!! The last time he won was in 2010-with 65% of the vote. Now with Paul Ryan on the ticket–the economy and unemployment will come to the forefront of the election and Obama's record exposed......Something that Obama and the liberals definitely did NOT want to happen!! After all–Obama definitely does not want his disasterous 3-1/2 year record regarding the economy and unemployment exposed for all voters to see!! "

    Listen up, BREN: The only thing that is going to be exposed here is Romney's disgusting tax record. And the fact that the GOP has been holding this country hostage since 2008.

    August 12, 2012 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  17. us_1776

    Even the IRS can go back 6 years on tax returns.

    What are Romney and Ryan hiding?


    August 12, 2012 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  18. NickD2

    Yes the race is on to define Ryan. Just as the race was on to lie about Obama's birth certificate, the cause of the banking failures and the collapse of the American economy.

    Lest anyone forget GWB and Karl roves scorched earth policies of lie as much as you can then make one apology after the damage is done. perhaps the dirtiest politics in Americas history.

    Ryan wants to destroy the last vestiges of 20th century America and eliminate medicare and social security, in all of Ryan's years in congress he has never once tried to cut congressional wages or their free healthcare for life. He has his now he wants to make sure no one in America will ever know secure retirement again.

    August 12, 2012 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  19. Jeb

    Paul Ryan has already defined himself with his plan to end Medicare and Social Security.

    August 12, 2012 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  20. David

    I'm voting for Obama/Biden.

    August 12, 2012 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  21. tonyl

    I bet Ryan has paid higher percentage in taxes then "Romney the Cayman King". Ryan is probably a shoe shine boy for Romney. But Romney needs to show his last 12 years of tax returns for the country to see if this multimillionaire has paid any taxes before becoming the President of these United States. He wants to cut more taxes for the millionaires as the new president. But wants to cut the benefits for the seniors. That's just plain shameful and outrageous.

    August 12, 2012 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  22. Critical Thinker

    Romney and Ryan are intent on turning the U.S. into a plutocracy. They unabashedly believe wealthy people are the best people to control our country in their ideological rhetoric. This is why they believe the one percenters should receive tax cuts for starters.

    August 12, 2012 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  23. patriot

    Democrat Kathy Hochul won in a predominantly Republican district last year by campaigning on the selfish side of Ryan budget. When rest of the country learn about Ryan's budget, Mitt/Ryan will be history.

    August 13, 2012 12:08 am at 12:08 am |

    I'm trying to imagine a future for the American economy, with Ryan inserted as a primary decision maker, where a typical household can afford the basics – health care for a family of four and a kid in college – the way we could under Clinton. I'm sorry, I just don't see it.

    August 13, 2012 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  25. Americanheart

    First of all we must stop deriding one candidate over another. For all those who romney will steal from poor, what did Obama do for the poor? Yea he got health care,food stamps, stimulus. Did anything translate to jobs? How do poor become less poor? How do poor people prosper? Only by jobs, work out of the hole. No one can pull them out of the misery. Obama has tried a number of good things- he made sure ppl can get health care, tried to stimulate the economy, tried green jobs. It hasn't helped, now that may not be his fault, the economy does not turn at a snap, but he has to take the blame. He cannot hide behind his administration and deny taking responsibility. The democrats had the congress and senate majority for the first 18 months of his presidency what did they do???

    It is appalling that solyndra is not talked about anywhere, the way the administration has been lavishing money in parties when the country is bankrupt.....remember obama mention- "we are going to go thro the budget line by line and reduce wasteful spending"....what happened to all that lofty talk? I loved obama, he is an inspiration a great orator but not a visionary for this country.

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