The man from Janesville, Wis., who Republicans hold up as one of their leading intellectual lights and Democrats decry as the architect of Medicare’s and Social Security’s demise, spent his first moments as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential choice bathed in sunshine.
But that glittering moment of American political theater quickly gave way to the sort of tough talk about tough choices that is quintessentially Ryan. America is in a “different, difficult, dangerous moment," he said, and Mitt Romney won’t shrink from it.
“Whatever the explanations, whatever the excuses, this is a record of failure,” Ryan said of President Obama’s record in office. Mr. Obama, “and too many like him in Washington, have refused to make difficult decisions because they are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation.”
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Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman, has seen his budget proposals over the last two years held up by Republican insiders as courageous efforts to correct America’s fiscal trajectory and a stark contrast to a Senate that has not passed a budget in nearly three years. While they have been lightning rods for criticism from the left, Ryan has responded to those critiques bluntly: Where’s your plan?
That same attitude was on display Saturday.
“The commitment Mitt Romney and I make to you is this,” Ryan said, the crowd howling in approval at every pause. “We won't duck the tough issues – we will lead! We won't blame others – we will take responsibility!”
Romney highlighted Ryan’s style – two parts earnest, one part policy wonk – in an introduction that stressed Ryan “works in Washington – but his beliefs remain firmly rooted in Janesville.”
Ryan “understands that honorable people can have honest differences. And he appeals to the better angels of our nature. There are a lot of people in the other party who might disagree with Paul Ryan,” Romney said. “I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t respect his character and judgment.”
And it is Ryan’s most important judgment that America’s system of taxing and spending – with an emphasis on the spending side, particularly on entitlement programs – is broken.
“Politicians from both parties have made empty promises which will soon become broken promises, with painful consequences, if we fail to act now,” Ryan said.
But one line, near the end of Ryan’s speech, may encapsulate both the promise and the peril of Ryan’s new place beside Mitt Romney.
“We can turn this thing around. Real solutions can be delivered. But it will take leadership,” Ryan said. “And the courage to tell you the truth.”
The crowd took this last clause as a signal to roar their approval.
But Democrats think the truth about Ryan’s budget plans, particularly on Medicare and Social Security, may be enough to bury not only Romney’s presidential hopes but Senate and House Republicans in tough November contests.
The committee charged with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives sent out a fundraising appeal just as Ryan’s speech concluded that speaks to how Democrats will attempt to portray Ryan in the weeks to come.
“Romney just named Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential nominee,” wrote Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Robby Mook. “Yeah – THAT Paul Ryan. The architect of the Republican plan to kill Medicare.”
In the Senate, too, the Ryan budget presents political complications.
“Congressman Ryan is a public servant of the highest order, and I appreciate his character, intelligence, and creativity, not only on the vast majority of issues on which we agree – like controlling government spending, developing our natural resources, and providing tax relief for families and job creators – but also on the few occasions where we haven't.”
But where they haven’t is Ryan’s central contribution to Congress – his budgets. Representative Rehberg has consistently voted against Ryan’s budget because of its sharp treatment of Medicare.
“From ending bailouts to reducing taxes, there are some good things in Congressman Ryan’s plan,” Rehberg said in a release in March, “but I simply refuse to gamble with something as important as Medicare.”
On Saturday, however, the GOP faithful embraced their new prospective No. 2.
The pairing impressed the handful of attendees who spoke with the Monitor afterward, all of whom were already ardent Republican supporters.
All were only broadly familiar with Ryan if they had heard of him at all – but all of them liked what they heard Saturday morning.
The Romney-Ryan pairing is “something we can really get behind,” said Tristen Cramer of nearby Virginia Beach. “It’s just a perfect fit.”
Ms. Cramer, a recent law school graduate, said she was impressed by the duo’s fiscal conservatism, intelligence, and that they appeared “confident and comfortable” together.
Jim Farmer, a salesman from Norfolk, said he was impressed by the candidates’ biographies.
“Both of them have a common trait: [they’re] hard working,” said Mr. Farmer.
Ryan, who emerged from a crowded field of potential running mates including a number of current and former governors, was thought to be a dark horse candidate as late as several weeks ago.
That had Denise Crittenden rooting for Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) to get Romney’s nod, she said. But seeing Ryan on Saturday morning, Ms. Crittenden of Norfolk said she thought the blend of Romney’s experience as Governor of Massachusetts and Ryan’s time in Washington was “very impressive.”
IN PICTURES: On the Campaign Trail with Mitt Romney