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.

- 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. Don

    CNN, allow we to define him in one word, which also represents most horrifying word Obama faces: math.

    August 12, 2012 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  2. krehator

    I think attacking Ryan will backfire. He is well liked, even by many Dems.

    No, keep the pressure on the guy running for President. He is the weak part of this ticket. I think the Dems could capitalize some points by treating Ryan respectfully, and making him look incompatible with Romney, or being used like a pawn to win votes.

    August 12, 2012 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  3. Billweiser

    He's the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing.

    August 12, 2012 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  4. megamimi

    Rather than let someone else "define" Paul Ryan for me, I think that I will listen to what he has to say, review what he has done, and decide for myself. So far, I like what I see.

    August 12, 2012 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  5. Jay North

    The Ryan choice was a bad choice for Mitt. Ryan is honest about the need to cut Social Security and Medicare but Americans are not ready for that and this will not play well. A mistake to pick this guy.

    By the way, cutting programs to balance the budge would seem logical if Ryan then would not be for cutting taxes which would counter act any gains in the cuts. Goofy thinking but the wealthy love it.

    August 12, 2012 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  6. The Reprobate

    Ryan has already defined himself. It was Ryan that presented the budget to end medicare as we know it. It was Ryan who proposed to raise the age to collect social security. Ryan only has to explain or back up his proposals. The Romney/Ryan ticket is running out of voter blocs to offend...but hey, they have 3 more months to alienate those they have yet to alienate.

    August 12, 2012 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  7. Phil

    Just out: Paul Ryan will only release two years of tax returns.


    Consider yourself defined, Paul R'Ayn.

    August 12, 2012 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  8. moose

    I hate him glad I am not poor but probably will be when he is done and well I guess I will just work till I die

    August 12, 2012 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  9. ffs

    Sounds to me from the comments that the liberals are scared. Back to just namecalling when they have nothing better to run on.

    August 12, 2012 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  10. kdw123

    Are there any viable third party candadets? After reviewing Paul Ryans tax plan and the massive tax increase that is in there I can not vote for him. His plan to eliminate social security, medicare and medicade with out repaying every tax paying American means the highest tax payment in the history of this country

    August 12, 2012 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  11. Bob

    Ryan takes a Bush (the dumbest one) page of economics which says let's privatize everything- Social Security, Medicare, schools. Yeah, that would have worked out real well in 2008. Instead of bailing out just banks (the guys who purposely wrote bad loans and invested in CDS that only made money if the loans were defaulted) we would have had to bail out health insurance companies, schools, and pension plans. Sure the banks made off like bandits in the bailouts (the government paid off their purposely-bad loans and they got to keep the profit from betting those loans would fail- double payout!). And it was Bush (and a GOP-controlled Congress) that expanded Medicare more than any other President since Roosevelt with the Prescription Drug Plan- and passed it without any funding (something no other President had done). So much for fiscal responsibility. We're still paying for that economic time bomb (along with the tax cuts for the rich trust-fund babies).

    August 12, 2012 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  12. JeffinIL

    This is a normal election cycle where the VP candidate simply doesn't matter. In 2008 we had a candidate who would have been the oldest man ever elected to office had he won. His VP choice actually mattered as there was a fair chance that person could become president. That is not the case this time.

    August 12, 2012 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  13. the1811

    I am so disenchanted by the state of this country... neither party has a true fix for what is wrong but they're sure happy to tell you why the other guy is the wrong choice.

    I don't want 4 more years of Obama and I don't want Romney either. Are these really the best and brightes this country has to offer?

    August 12, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  14. sueinga

    Romey and Ryan bought and paid for by Adelson and the Koch Brothers

    August 12, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  15. Tell It Like It Is

    The Democrats will attempt to malign and smear and be as dirty as possible as they were with Palin and her family. The difference is that Ryan is a seasoned politician and will no doubt be able to turn the tables on them without stooping to their level. Good.

    August 12, 2012 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  16. Jim

    Ryan will utterly destroy Biden in the VP debate. I can't wait ti see this.

    August 12, 2012 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  17. Notalibitard

    Xman, all that and let me guess, you really believe that Obama is fit for office? Really, a community activist? What has he done, the economy still sucks, the poor are still............poor. The middle class is still stuck in the ................middle. And you guessed it, the rich both democrats and republicans are, wait for it............... RICH.

    August 12, 2012 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  18. John Kaufman, Oceanside, CA

    Why don't you put together a real well thought out business plan to right the financial mess this country is in now in Republicans. Make it very specific, very realistic in time and yes that means the next 4 years. Define the obsticles, have benchmarks, and take full responsibilty if elected the current condition that now exists. Forget the name calling and the blame game that means NOTHING! Have something that written so we the voters can see it and read it, don't talk from only your mouth. What is your sensible plan that is not based upon tax increases. This plan has be slow and steady and a real goal to it. NAME IT, SHOW IT, and BELIEVE IN IT!

    August 12, 2012 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  19. racegirl1

    Backing Romney and Ryan George you are rewarding another Bush Chaney administration. Different names, but the same ideas. Give tax breaks to the job creators that is one of the biggest lies that all of you stupid people believe. The 1% are NOT job creators, they take their money and invest in the stock market and hid it over seas just like Mitt the Twit. This man destroyed thousands of lives, took their money, paid no or little taxes and hid his money in off shore bank accounts. If this is your idea of the American way, I hope you still feel this way when they screw you. Because if you are not one of the 1% let's see if you feel this way 3 months into his administration. We may all be suffering, however we will enjoy watching you stupid republicans more because you voted to put these people in office at least we will know we tried to stop it. Remember you reap what you sow. Obama/Biden 2012

    August 12, 2012 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  20. TJ

    What a great pick! Good luck to Ryan's opponents trying to frame him as radical. This is the guy who has won re-election in a largely Democratic part of Wisconsin for 12 years. Check out the Presidents percentages and Ryan's in 2008. Have you done the math? Not only did Ryan win AGAIN BUT 20-25% OF OBAMA VOTERS VOTED FOR RYAN

    August 12, 2012 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  21. Donald in CA

    Ryan defined himself with that middle class killer budger. In case folks have forgotten, its called the ryan budget plan.

    August 12, 2012 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  22. Nilkinggary

    No one really cares since Romney has no chance of winning anyway.

    August 12, 2012 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  23. happigurl70

    Paul Ryan defined: "Former Vice Presidential candidate".

    August 12, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  24. Mark Taylor

    Allow me to help define him. Seniors, run as fast as you can! This guy wants to destroy Medicare. This man does not understand your issues. His running mate hasn't got a clue about middle-class workers and amassed a large part of his personal wealth by shipping American jobs overseas. This is perhaps the worst GOP ticket as far as understanding middle-class Americans in my lifetime (57 years). I'm not a Democrat, I'm not a Liberal, I'm an Independent hard working guy (who lost a job to offshoring in 2001) and I'm a veteran. Not much of an Obama fan but no way will I vote for THIS ticket.

    August 12, 2012 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  25. Mike Buck

    I saw a Q and A with Paul Ryan a while back. I thought he was a very intelligent and articulate man who happens to be on the wrong side and I strongly disagree with his politics.

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