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. abdc1

    Get the real facts ,for Soc/Secand medicare #1 they spend the money in congrees and put in IOU ,now they can not fund the system ,because we are Broke . # 2 Stop giving away money thats not in the budget to foriegn country"s
    # 3 cut up there so called plastic debeit card they use .# 3 take away there benefits or at least down size them like they want to do to all Americans and reduce there pay as they have to all other Gov't workers throught out the State Gov't
    Next is the biggest Item to do is do away with the Lobby money that they get + there pay .They would not let you double dip !

    August 13, 2012 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  2. streetdude66

    Wow, who-da-thunk-it? Paul Ryan the congressman that says its alright to say "NO" to anything Obama proposes for a balanced budget for policies that will further be a burden on the wallets of the middle class. Who else emboldens the Romney vision of Amer better than this guy? It is now official the GOP are completely clueless.

    August 13, 2012 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  3. szaggy

    I have searched the web far and wide and still haven't found something SPECIFICALLY in Ryan's budget that is so shameful, unblievable or idiotic. The left has gotten good at name-calling but not very good at intellectual curiosity.

    August 13, 2012 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  4. Patchygroundfog

    Romney and Fehrnstrom get out the Etch-A-Sketch to redefine Ryan, but it's going to be difficult no matter how many times they say he never wanted to be a career politician. He never wanted to be anything else, and his record will define him no matter how much lipstick they apply. But the lmedia should be careful about being too mean to him - he will start crying as the Velveeta coagulates in his veins. Good thing he has a great taxpayer-funded insurance plan to treat all those hardened arteries and cold black heart. Where's the next stop on the Throw America Under The Bus tour, a drive-through confessional booth? And Mitt, you need to release the rest of your tax returns, you can't talk about the wealthy paying their fair share until we see if you've paid yours over the last decade. You can't have your cake and hide it too ...

    August 13, 2012 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  5. BG

    Yeah, this guy is really scary, how about that joe biden?

    August 13, 2012 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  6. toughtimes

    Turn out the lights Barry – Paul Ryan is just what the doctor ordered. Can't wait to see him destroy Biden in the debate.

    August 13, 2012 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  7. anothermuse

    SO a fairly large front page article that only cited one actual vote I think. Instead it parades gossipy type comments as facts. Well, I guess we deserve what we get from the media. As a country we have not stood up and demanded actual facts on anything. Instead we watch the entertainment that the news networks portray as "news", and since it hits a chord with us, we scream YEAH!! The other guy will destroy my way of life!!!...It's probably always been this way, but as I hit my mid 40's, just seems so ridiculous.

    If you are on the right, there is an appeal to Ayn Rand. Also if you are a Rush fan (the band not the blowhard). But Ayn Rand is just the rights version of Marx or Lennin. Just an idealist who didn't like the extreme left, so wrote about the extreme right.

    Just have to wonder if there is anyway to move off the poles in our politics. Can a candidate point out the lunacy of both parties, let the American people know they are being treated like carnival marks by both parties and actually succeed?

    August 13, 2012 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  8. jake


    really?? the uaw and teachers unions are the root of our economic problems? how about wall street "bankers" and fly-by-night "mortgatge companies?"

    maybe we should send a rover to the planet you are living on – i doubt it would find any inteligent life..........

    August 13, 2012 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  9. Alina1

    The Ryan budget plan: Cut deficit spending by $5.3 trillion over 10 years
    Balanced budget by 2040
    Cuts to Medicaid, Food Stamps.
    transit infrastructure.
    Cuts tax rate on wealthy from 35% to 25%
    Reduces tax brackets from 6 to 2
    Medicare changes:
    Change Medicare to a voucher program
    Participants choose between Medicare or private insurance.
    Change would affect people under 55%
    As you see guys the burden IS ALL ON the little folks, on us. Schools? There will be nothing spent on education. The Government will be so small that you will be able to put it in your bath tub (Karl Roves dream).

    August 13, 2012 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  10. ShawnDH

    Remember when a desperate John McCain chose a Teabagger favorite to change the game and his inevitable loss? How'd that work out again? Thanks Romney. Obama just won this election.

    August 13, 2012 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  11. SPower

    People are defined by their own character and integrity. It doesn't matter what the demoncrats say, Ryan's character, integrity, and accomplishments speak for themselves. CNN/CBS/NBC/NYT/NPR and the rest of the Obama campaign can try to smear him all they want. Nothing will stick!

    August 13, 2012 08:46 am at 8:46 am |

    I like to congratulate Mitt Romney for a great pick for Vice President. This ticket WILL go to the White House in January 2013. President Obama time is finished. He screwed this Country with his extreme ideas that has made things worse not better. Romney/Ryan wil apeal the Obama Administration and get this country moving again. Help is on the way.

    August 13, 2012 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  13. MollyBee

    Ryan's solution to our country's woes is to assure capitalists stay healthy while the real people of America continue to suffer. He is a smarty-pants young whipper-snapper without a conscience and/or any reliable data on what the results of his cut-throat budget other than he 'THINKS'

    August 13, 2012 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  14. GI Joe

    Romney/Ryan - dig your own grave.

    August 13, 2012 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  15. LydiaIllinois

    Why would anyone want to vote for Romey in the first place? He is part of the problem of our jobs being sent seas.
    Ryan may have good intentions, but why in the world would he want to run on the Romey ticket? No matter who we have for President, things are not going to get done because of the people we keep re-voting in for congress. With our country in the state it is in Congress goes on vacation instead of getting things done. Everyone keeps saying that they want to wait until after the election to pass anything – why? Things need to be done now, not months from now. .

    August 13, 2012 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  16. Skeptic

    I liked Mitt Romney, but Paul Ryan makes me sick. Judge a person by the company he keeps.

    August 13, 2012 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  17. Sam Cole

    The problem with Ryan is that he is the same as most conservatives in that he want to cut the poor and middle class out of the picture and leave the wealthy to remain. I would chance to bet that the elderly do not approve of his idea for Medicare. Yeah let those who need protecting the most from and already shady insurance industry fend for themselves by giving out vouchers for insurance that most likely will not be able to afford. To add insult to injury suggest handing over SSI to private banks to be managed? It should be a bad sign when some of your own party seems to be on another page when it comes to your policies.

    August 13, 2012 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  18. Quinton8

    Actually, Paul Ryan is just as bad as all the other Republicans. None want to even talk about the excessive and totally unnecessary military spending which is the proverbial "800lb. gorilla in the room" They all want to increase it while cutting Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. Their ideas are no brainers!

    August 13, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  19. Sherry Petersen

    I certainly hope CNN will start providing "equal time" to both sides. I have felt for some time CNN is leaning to covering Republican issues rather than a fair "discussion" from both sides... Maybe it needs to be a discussion rather than trading "parting shots"... There is much at stake on the future of this country!

    August 13, 2012 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  20. BCW - NYC

    I agree with the idea of reducing national debts; but how come we should give the wealthy another Tax Cut. Can we afford it? How GOPs are going to pay for the Tax Cut for the RICH? Cut senior benefits and throw them into the medical insurance market at their old age is harmful. No Romney Hood. No way No how!

    August 13, 2012 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  21. Matt Lundgren

    Those two are definitely Batman and Robin.

    August 13, 2012 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  22. coolercoleman

    The article should read; The DEMs race to define Paul Ryan with the help of the liberal media.

    August 13, 2012 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  23. A

    I grew up in WI and lived there most of mu adult life. Paul Ryan is defined. I have learned more about his insurance company lobbyist wife, though. Interesting. He is way too polarizing. Another guy that won't be able to work for the good of everybody. I only wonder if he is bought and paid for by Koch like his buddy Walker.

    August 13, 2012 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  24. What?

    Enjoy the GOP koolaid

    August 13, 2012 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  25. What?

    Enjoy that GOP koolaid, and don't forget what the GOP did during the 8 years of Bush, no better than what we have now.

    August 13, 2012 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
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