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.

- Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker

- Follow Jim Acosta on Twitter: @JimAcostaCNN

"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."

- Check out the CNN Electoral Map and Calculator and game out your own strategy for November.

Filed under: 2012 VP Pick • Paul Ryan • Sarah Palin
soundoff (552 Responses)
  1. once upon a horse

    Paul Ryan should learn a lot in this will come very useful to him should he chose to run for POTUS in 2016 maybe even against Mitt Romney.

    August 12, 2012 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  2. Thomas Guerra

    As an Obama supporter, I couldn't like Romney's VP pick more. It was a surprisingly respectable pick and Ryan truly embodies the nuts and bolts of the Republican party's economic agenda. To his credit, Romney did not opt for social issue smoke and mirrors with Paul Ryan. No baiting poor midwestern voters with contraception rhetoric and the like with the sole purpose of delivering votes to the wealthiest share-holders in the country. Ryan is at least an honest broker and believes passionately in his economic vision. By taking Ryan on board, Romney is helping to make this a truly clear choice between two opposing economic philosophy's: Top-down vs Middle-out. ... and 80% of the "generals in the field", the leading economists, agree that Obama's plan is the correct path for a full and lasting recovery– that you build a lasting economy by growing the middle class, that the true "job-creators" are NOT the CEO's of major corporations or even their shareholders, but the middle class customer walking in the door. If you want to improve the economy you stop subsidizing the fantastically wealthy, and give any tax-breaks to the middle class– so they can buy the products being produced.
    To any reasonable observer, 2008 convincingly disproved trickle-down economics. The middle class cannot keep enriching shareholders and CEO's if they're being squeezed on all fronts (health care, education & taxes). Theirs simply too much money going to the top. It's just not smart capitalist policy to impoverish the people you're counting oin to buy your product. We're not talking revolution and we're certainly not talking about rewarding those who don't work. Just tweak the percentages a little... make the tax system more fair and I believe the results will be good for all.
    Looking forward to the debates.

    August 12, 2012 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  3. Amom

    Too bad the media did not race to define Barack. The nightmare would have been over before it started.

    August 12, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  4. Siara

    Paul Ryan: "I grew up on Ayn Rand... that's what I tell people. [It} taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff"

    Ayn Rand quotes: "[Faith] is a sign of a psychological weakness . . . I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire, above the evidence of what your mind knows. That’s what you’re doing with the idea of God."

    "You couldn’t really understand it because there is no way in which you could justify, nobody has ever given a reason why man should be his brothers’ keeper, and you have every example, and you see examples around you of men perishing by their attempt to be their brothers’ keeper."

    "Man's standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man's power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith. The purpose of man's life is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question."

    August 12, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  5. Nobama

    Now the college kids that voted Obama in 4 years ago and are back living at home are not going to vote for him. Look at youtube see what kind of videos are posting against Obama from this age bracket. Hopefully, he will be gone soon.

    August 12, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  6. Time To Play Ball

    Dear Americans,

    The Republicans have declared war.
    They have glued themselves to Romney, and Ryan,
    who will do thier best to destroy America as we know it.

    Rich Corporations getting tax breaks at the expense of the middle class.
    Oil companies getting tax breaks while making record profits.

    They scream for smaller government,
    what they mean is NO REGULATIONS !

    You want a future for America and its children,
    Dont swallow this garbage.

    Its a corporate takeover, for the rich, and by the rich.

    Are you smart enough to get the message ?
    You better, your future is at stake.

    August 12, 2012 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  7. Jake

    Quit focusing on Ryan. Bring the focus back to Romney's tax returns where it belongs.

    August 12, 2012 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  8. Chuck

    Paul Ryan is so far to the Right that if he gets elected with Mittsy, we will all be working until 100, and retirees and poor people will be living in tents in the woods

    August 12, 2012 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  9. CGF

    so sad!!! R&R, if they win in Nov, will take us back to the "same old same"–More money for the rich!!!

    August 12, 2012 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    So this guy has never had a real job his entire life? He finished college and went to congress? Seems like years ago the people we elected to congress where reflective of us.

    August 12, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  11. wharf_rat

    Let's balance that budget! First we will end the unnecessary Bush-Cheney Wars. Then we will cut military spending by 50%. Then we will tax the 1%. A balanced budget in no time.

    August 12, 2012 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  12. wwwamach

    What idiot picked the slogan the "comeback party"/
    They should have realized instantly that it would be changed to the "Goback Party" which goes well with the "Party of No".. Alot of fun is goijng to be had with this!
    Goback to the stone age
    Go back to the past.

    August 12, 2012 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  13. Roscoe Chait

    Paul Ryan reminds me of Hannibal Lecter (Hannbal the Cannibal) from Silence of the Lambs. Cold, predatory eyes. And they are focused on the middle class, the poor and the elderly.

    August 12, 2012 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  14. Charlie from the North

    Well, Ryan is proof to the Tea Party that Mitt Romney really means all that crazy crap he tells them. I don't think it helps with independents (remember them?) very much at all. In fact they might see it as a slap in the face.

    August 12, 2012 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  15. Steve

    "They're going to do whatever they can to dirty him up," Romney's strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said before the High Point rally.

    Sorry, Eric, Paul was able to do that all on his own. He's selected one particular path since he was a teen. He is devoted to himself and to the GOP which does not give a hoot about the middle class, senior citizens, education or – no matter what they want us to believe – the budget, that is unless they can slash everything which support the majority of our citizens.

    Paul Ryan is as polarizing a choice as Romney could have made. He made is to galvanize the hard-core right. If this ticket wins, America will never recover.

    August 12, 2012 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  16. Ben

    I do not like Sarah Palin. However, a biassed media defined her unfairly. My favorite is that the focus became that she was too unqualified to be president and never once mentioned that she was running against a man, Obama, who in every measure of experience, was less qualified to be president himself.

    August 12, 2012 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  17. Under a Black Flag

    Please Note: If you use the word "Liberal" or "Conservative" in your post and assume that others will automatically interpret that as a slur, then you live in a bubble of bias where truth can no longer reach you. These words have actual meaning that is neither positive nor negative. If this comment raises your personal defenses even the slightest bit, then you are exactly who I am talking to here and you should know that you are not nearly informed or intelligent enough to post reader comments, let alone to vote. If you truly love America, do your country a favor and stay home on election day. I hate to break it to you but you are simply incapable of objective and rational thought. You are not the answer, you are the problem. Just accept it, own it. and shut up about it. Thank you.

    August 12, 2012 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  18. Mike Texoma

    The Ryan Budget defines the man. The Ryan budget is not about fiscal responsibility or the national debt or the annual deficits. It is about paying the least amount of taxes. The Ryan plan calls for a drastic reduction in government spending, including reducions in programms people really like. Paul Ryan is a "starve the beast" man. They have talked about it in terms of tax reductions, but now they have to talk about what they intend to cut. The Obama campaign can force that. And that will tell us all we need to know about Paul Ryan – the thing will speak for itself.

    August 12, 2012 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  19. DonnerParty

    Define Paul Ryan-Tea party extremist who wants to end Social security and Medicare.I think that covers it.

    August 12, 2012 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  20. MLed

    Wasn't Paul Ryan in Congress when the GOP ran up those huge deficits and cratered the economy? He's the problem not the solution.

    August 12, 2012 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  21. Marco

    Quit comparing Sarah Palin to Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan, although his policies are morally reprehensible, is intelligent and articulate. Sarah Palin is none of those things.

    August 12, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  22. Veritas

    I am not religious in any way, but I cannot understand how one can, like Paul Ryan, admire Ayn Rand and at the same time pretend to be a Catholic. Ayn Rand was an atheist (nothing wrong with that), and invented this philosophy called objectivism that is essentially about unfettered capitalism (anything for a buck) and limitless egotism. She said that she didn't think anyone should do anything for anyone else. Now, I cannot think of anything farther away from the christian teachings/mythology than that.

    August 12, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  23. wesley

    "Ask Sarah Palin" Why the heck would anyone think THAT is the first sentence of any rational or INTELLIGENT conversation. Talk about a brain dead sentence about a brain dead politician.

    August 12, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  24. JASON

    Ryan just defined himself he made a joke on a senior citizen who disagreed with his policies before getting him arrested. Reminds us of a party in Germany that used to do the same to people who disagreed with them

    August 12, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  25. Veritas

    I am not religious in any way, but I cannot understand how one can, like Paul Ryan, admire Ayn Rand and at the same time pretend to be a Catholic. Ayn Rand was an atheist (nothing wrong with that), and invented this philosophy called objectivism that is essentially about unfettered capitalism (anything for a buck) and limitless egotism. She said that she didn't think anyone should do anything for anyone else. Now, I cannot think of anything farther away from the christian teachings/mythology than that.

    August 12, 2012 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23