Via smartphone app Saturday morning, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced he’s selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be his running mate.
In a later press release, the Romney campaign named the two men “America’s comeback team.” News of the Romney pick leaked late Friday night, ahead of Ryan and Romney’s first appearance as running mates in Norfolk, Va., on the USS Wisconsin (Ryan’s home state) Saturday morning, where Romney called Ryan “a man of tremendous character.”
Ryan, and the budget plan that has come to define him as a politician, offer the ticket serious risks and rewards: Ryan can galvanize conservatives and offer a substantive alternative to President Obama’s vision for improving the economy, but that vision involves enormous tax cuts focused on the wealthy — a fact that could cement Romney in the minds of voters as the rich man’s candidate.
Though he resisted calls to run for president himself, Ryan said Saturday that Romney “is a leader with the skills, the background and the character that our country needs at a crucial time in its history,” according to excerpts. “Following four years of failed leadership, the hopes of our country, which have inspired the world, are growing dim; and they need someone to revive them. Gov. Romney is the man for this moment; and he and I share one commitment: we will restore the dreams and greatness of this country.”
Ryan is a staunch conservative and one of the most high-profile Republicans in Congress. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is the architect of the party’s contentious policy platform, which includes radical restructuring of popular programs like Medicare and the eventual eradication of some of the government’s key functions.
Ryan represents the Wisconsin’s 1st District — a region that includes the small city of Janesville, where Ryan was born and raised. An Ayn Rand acolyte, Ryan worked as an aide for Sens. Bob Kasten (R-WI), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and for GOP vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, whom he identifies as one of his professional role models. He was first elected to public office in 1998, when he was only 28 years old.
Though he’s now identified as the GOP’s small government standard-bearer, Ryan rose through the ranks of the House GOP conference supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit and TARP, the 2008 bank-bailout bill.
After President Obama’s election in 2008, several top-ranking Republican officials, including Ryan, convened to craft an opposition strategy to save the GOP from complete obsolescence. The basic theory was to aggressively oppose Obama’s initiatives — deny him policy victories when possible, and to make those victories deeply unpopular when Obama managed to pass them.
In that political milieu, and amid a climate of deep national uncertainty, Ryan crafted a contrasting vision: His budget plan represents a far-reaching vision for the country’s future that would dramatically reshape the government’s role in providing services for the elderly and the poor, funding public works and the general welfare.
Most contentiously, Ryan proposed to phase out Medicare, and replace it with a private, subsidized health insurance system for seniors. But he also proposed to slash Medicaid and hand the entire program over to individual states, and reduce taxes, particularly on wealthy people, to near historic lows.
Ryan’s budget endeared him to the conservative base, but it also drew many to believe he could never represent the party as a vice presidential nominee. By bucking that conventional wisdom, and further elevating Ryan, Romney has clarified the stakes of the 2012 election, and indelibly linked his party to an deeply unpopular policy vision — a vision that’s only politically feasible in an environment where a catastrophic recession has starved other issues of scrutiny.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.