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

    Alright. For those of you who dont know, Paul Ryan is a safety net remover. He wouldnt be a fiscal conservative, though, because he seems to have no problem signing off on things republicans want to spend tax dollars on.

    August 13, 2012 04:46 am at 4:46 am |
  2. nokoolaidcowboy

    Standing up there with the military background, seeing Romney and Ryan together was awkward. They didn't look comfortable with each other up there. As if Romney didn't have enough problems, now he is going to be out shined by his running mate. Hilarious!

    August 13, 2012 04:50 am at 4:50 am |
  3. agreed

    We already know Mr. Ryan through his "plan": grow the deficit; choke off Medicare (Vouchers? Really?); privatization of Social Security (Yeah, Wall Street is where seniors' retirement money should be!); higher taxes on the poor and middle class; lower taxes for the rich.

    Bottom line: The GOP has officially abandoned the elderly, the poor, and the middle class. They are the party of the rich. JUST THE RICH.

    Nope, not buying.

    August 13, 2012 04:55 am at 4:55 am |
  4. Caspar Mulders

    Paul Ryan is a missionary, almost obsessive promoter of Ayn Rand's 'philosophical' works. You can support or oppose that (I am in the latter camp), but whichever position you take, you can't deny that he is an abstract ideologue of the right.

    I would further like to add that the way his two (in)famous budgets were constructed strengthens the notion of a party ideologue: these budgets lacked any sense of economic realism or pragmatism, instead presenting a theoretical fantasy-representation of Ryan's economic dreams as a real budget.

    If Romney and Ryan get in office, the country will be at least as ungovernable as it is with a democratic president and a republican congress. Apparently, there are no moderates on the Republican side any more, at least none whose voices are heard.

    August 13, 2012 05:01 am at 5:01 am |
  5. Steven B.

    National socialist party sums him up properly.

    August 13, 2012 05:05 am at 5:05 am |
  6. The fact is

    "He went there to change minds,"

    Every politician could say that to cover up his/her real reasons to go to Washington for power, fame and easy money. What makes Ryan different from the other politicians? Mr. Ryan is a career Washington insider just like all other politicians receiving taxpayer's money month by month, year by year as "salary and benefits" to make a easy living. Romney's theory is nothing but an old lie.

    August 13, 2012 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  7. Harleigh Kiffer

    No doubt tht the media will paint a picture in an attempt to spread terror amongst those of us that are seniors in the hope that we are too stupid to study the true picture. Good Luck.

    August 13, 2012 05:20 am at 5:20 am |
  8. Bizzness

    We all here in America pay taxes...No matter what class you consider yourself in, we all should pay the same percentage...No breaks for anyone....No wonder our economy is still struggling, not everyone is paying their fair share of taxes...They say the middle class is the backbone of this nation, well slamming the middle class with more of the tax would mean less money being spent back to the economy...They say taxing the rich would make the economy far worst, well how bout just paying the percentage you're suppose to like the rest of us...Not asking for a hand me down but if we are to ever get out of debt, EVERYONE needs to pay...NO breaks, NO BS...

    August 13, 2012 05:27 am at 5:27 am |
  9. Michelle

    Evil and dangerous.

    August 13, 2012 05:30 am at 5:30 am |
  10. Republicans - "The Not Intended to Be Factually Accurate" Party

    Mr. Ryan –

    How do you and your family recieve healthcare Insurance benefits? Who paid for the expenses associated with the birth of your children? What were YOUR out-of-pocket expenses? You`ve been a Federal Government EMPLOYEE for about 14 years, correct? How can you morally & ethically argue to end Romneycare-for-All [aka: Obama-care or the Affordable Care Act], when you`ve benefited from a gold-plated insurance plan paid for by the American tax payer?

    And remember, your answer helps us to "DEFINE" you.

    August 13, 2012 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
  11. Jt_flyer

    So republicans finally found a candidate who's tax returns could actually be released without incriminating him.

    August 13, 2012 05:36 am at 5:36 am |
  12. Tony

    Once again no choice. Paul Ryan solidifies the republican's contempt towards the middle income working class.

    August 13, 2012 05:38 am at 5:38 am |
  13. MarxistMayhem

    It's fun to watch CNN, MSNBC and NBC p ooping in their panties about the Romney/Ryan ticket and coordinating with Media Matters on how they're going to attack them.

    August 13, 2012 05:44 am at 5:44 am |
  14. avgjoe

    Ryan is overqualified to be VP and play second fiddle to Romney. The ticket should be reversed. Maybe what we are seeing is the setup for 2016 – Biden vs. Ryan – assuming Obama keeps Biden on his ticket. The world will be much different in 2016 and ripe for extremism in either direction...

    August 13, 2012 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  15. demovsemperor

    Ryan is 10 times as honest than Obama and Biden put together. We have real problems and just saying someone doesn't care about those problems does not make it true. The people who don't care are the liberals haters in the democratic party.

    August 13, 2012 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  16. maltytasker

    Paul Ryan: right wing Tea Party extremist who wants to throw granny off the cliff, and push the rest of us 98 percenters after her. Don't need Webster's to define that.

    August 13, 2012 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  17. Joed

    It will be a day of celebration for the rich if Romney wins. I have seen up close how they smoke screen reasons for tax breaks for the rich.
    If you are not rich, they are laughing at you, middle class and poor people. They also are grateful for the abortion issue, which could also help them win the election, but most don't care much about those types of issue... Only what protects their millions from taxation.
    I vote for anybody that fights this, whether Obama, Clinton...

    August 13, 2012 06:01 am at 6:01 am |
  18. JW

    Nothing will change with this. The right wing will see him as part of a superhero team with Romney come to save the world from the facisim that is Obama, and the left leaning people, like myself, will vehemently disagree with his right wing views. We are entrenched in two different camps and nothing anyone can say or do will make us go over to the other side or want to communicate or work with the other side in any way. This schism is only going to get worse and worse, not better.

    August 13, 2012 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  19. Betty

    He has defined himself. No more defining needed. His ideologies speak for themselves.

    August 13, 2012 06:39 am at 6:39 am |

    Good, now Romney has a presidential candidate he can run with. He sure hasn't been one before this.

    August 13, 2012 06:44 am at 6:44 am |
  21. J0nx

    I don't get it? This guy is not conservative at all. His voting record clearly shows that. He votes with the bank-owned democrats almost 90% of the time. Just like his wannabe boss.

    August 13, 2012 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  22. MrBig

    Romney, Ryan and the GOP leaders have all expressed that they think the rich pay too much tax and the poor and middle class pay too little. So it makes sense that their economic proposals RAISE TAXES on the middle class by $2,000 per family, gut education, infrastructure, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid in order to pay for a 20% tax cut to the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Their economic policies are a complete JOKE.

    August 13, 2012 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  23. liberal disease

    maybe now we can pass a budget

    August 13, 2012 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  24. pete

    is ryan also going to run for reelection to congress? does any body know ?

    August 13, 2012 07:03 am at 7:03 am |
  25. John

    This is nothing but political diversion. Romney's ratings have been steadily falling since his refusal to release the tax returns requested and the reason is that he didn't pay taxes at all for 4 of the years in question by using a self-endorsed and abusive tax shelter, in addition to placing most of his money in foreign banks to avoid U.S. Taxes.

    Ryan was merely chosen to try and reverse the lack of confidence in Romney and opened his VP candidate acceptance speech by trying to mirror a speech by Thomas Jefferson to hopefully demonstrate the GOP platform as a core value of trust and integrity. Well it's never going to work.

    August 13, 2012 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
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