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. Vic of New York

    BTW, Val... You really need to take some Zanax and stop listening to FOX media – before you end up going postal on someone. Also while you are bemoaning the "slowest recovery ever" – maybe you should be thankful we avoided the GREATEST DEPRESSION EVER as the direct result of your hero George Bush Jr. and the Repugnican Party.

    August 13, 2012 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  2. r00t4rd3d

    They both got too much money and are too involved in organized religion. Money and religion, the bane of this earth.

    August 13, 2012 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  3. MaryM

    You've worked hard all your life. You've paid Medicare taxes for almost 30 years. But under the Ryan Republican plan, Medicare won't be there for you. Instead of Medicare as it exists now, under the Ryan Republican plan you'll get a voucher that will pay as little as half your Medicare costs when you turn 65—and as little as a quarter in your 80s. And all so that millionaires and billionaires can have a huge tax cut

    August 13, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  4. S.R.

    How can right wing conservative Christians support Romney? He is a Mormon, they added a book to the bible.......a cardinal sin!!! If you are a true Christian you cannot support this man.

    August 13, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  5. Anonymous

    You go Paul!

    August 13, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  6. Serious Person

    LOL. Paul Ryan may not want to pay for our healthcare but he sure has no problem with Wisconsin taxpayers paying for his Ruth's Chris tabs. Paul Ryan is defined as a funnel. A funnel for money to go from the middle/lower classes straight to the wealthiest.

    August 13, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  7. Josh

    I knew it... Right-Wing Radicals every republican is behind the scene

    August 13, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  8. dozapolis

    Does anyone else find it ironic that people who claim to support a free market and individual freedom complain about CNN being too liberal?

    What do you want, a government regulated media industry that makes sure reporting is "fair" in the eyes of the government. If Turner wants to support Obama and lean HIS networks to do so, you need to stop crying and support his decision as a free market believer. He is exercising his right as a business owner.

    August 13, 2012 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  9. vittoriokiss

    OMG, can this get any worst, Romney for the rich and now Ryan that wants only the rich to live a healthy life and get an education. Thanks for making this election clear to the intelligent Americans

    August 13, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  10. obama is Out Of Touch with reality

    here comes the trash talk from the obana liberal media, but as said, obama trash in is obama trash out, which makes obama just like the rest of the trash, which is a administration that is full of garbage.

    August 13, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  11. 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.

    No to Ryan!

    August 13, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  12. Ender


    Where can we see Obama's tax returns? People are asking for Romney's and Ryan's as if tax returns are the end all, be all of politics. There's only been one honest politician and the media ignored him. Not PR but RP.

    August 13, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  13. tullymd

    single payer is only humane option. we're moving away from that. Obama failed to deliver. He should be fired. He's a toady for Wall Street. The solution..... I have advised by kids to become Canadian citizens.

    August 13, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  14. Betty

    Just because someone does not agree with your opinion doesnt make them ignorant. Name calling will lessen the value of your argument. Lets leave the insults to the politicians. I am very afraid of a Romney/Ryan win. Things are tough enough but I do know the Bush policys didnt work either. We cant go backward.

    August 13, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  15. catherine

    As someone who voted for Obama is 2008 because I was inspired by his message, I don't care how the democrates DEFINE RYAN or ROMNEY...I was thrilled when healthcare passed..until I read it..several times...Obama is re-using monies to pay for healthcare. I can NOT stop anyone from voting for Obama is 2012..but I do ask that you get a copy of the health care law...and read it...and re-read it..then re-read it again...President Obama keeps going abck to different sources of money and allocating it to a portion of the healthcare cost..the problem CAN ONLY ALLOCATE SOMETHING ONCE..I had lunch with two accountant friends who agree with me..they do NOT dispute it..however they still say they are going to vote for Obama. There reasoning is "This is America" we will find the money when we need to find the money". if you ask me that is one of the scariest comments ever made in regards to healthcare. We need to be 100% how this is going to be funded so that EVERY ones taxes dont end up going up out of necessity..Please forgive my typos I type very quickly and have exactl;y 20 minutes before I have to be at the office.

    August 13, 2012 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  16. blake

    We know which image the leftist media will work very hard at making stick. Don't think the American people will buy it though.

    August 13, 2012 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  17. mb2010a

    Why is it that every time I see a picture of Paul Ryan I think "Weinergate"?

    August 13, 2012 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  18. Surfer George

    coolercoleman wrote:
    The article should read; The DEMs race to define Paul Ryan with the help of the liberal media."
    Ryan is already VERY self defined. Democrats need do nothing more than point out the things that he has proposed and the real life real time consequences if they were ever implemented.

    August 13, 2012 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  19. katolungile

    I see the first 6 stories are all negative towards Romney & Ryan... Good to see that CNN is playing it down the middle...

    August 13, 2012 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  20. Average Joe

    Why am I and millions of other law abiding, hard working and tax paying American citizens being labeled as "Libtards" and/or a "Socialists"?? All we want is to be treated fairly. I don't get it.. Is this Really what happens when one watches too much Fox News?? Is This what the so-called "Tea Party" is all about? Mindless insults?
    I like facts. And the facts show that America is Not, as some apparently believe, being "destroyed" by President Obama. Does half of America Really have That bad of a memory??!! Can that many people Really forget what "Dubya" did to this country in the eight years prior to Mr. Obama??!! How can so many people be so very wrong??

    August 13, 2012 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  21. frunklin

    4 more years of Obama is like asking for 4 more years of Bush.

    August 13, 2012 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  22. zisee

    At least he is not a Bitem, who hasn't got a full thought about anything except putting his foot in his mouth. Thanks Val for saying it like it is. The people who don't get it, I can't even say I feel sorry for them, because they don't take the time to learn what is going on.

    August 13, 2012 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  23. mattski

    If you call yourself an independent and you come one here to tell us how Obama is a liar and a crook and Romney/Ryan are saints, you're not independent.

    August 13, 2012 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  24. lefty avenger

    Paul Ryan is a Koch Brothers top 1% Oligarchy Puppet. Nothing more nothing less.

    August 13, 2012 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  25. Lean6

    Paul Ryan defined: Publicity Stunt...Palin 2.0.

    August 13, 2012 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
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