5 Things We Learned From A Week With Paul Ryan

Mitt Romney’s running mate brought along with him unexpected assets — and liabilities that the campaign perhaps should have seen coming.

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WARREN, Ohio — After a week of following Mitt Romney and his new running mater Paul Ryan, some truths have emerged that will shape the rest of the campaign.

1. Medicare Isn’t Going Away

SHANNON STAPLETON / Reuters

No matter what Romney and Ryan have tried to do this week, questions about the future of the federal health program for the elderly have followed them. At first, the Romney campaign refused to say which parts of the Ryan budget plan they endorsed: Romney was his own candidate, who would introduce his own plan, aides said repeatedly. Ryan didn’t mention the name of the entitlement program in his stump speech for four days. By midweek, Romney was embracing the Ryan Medicare proposal to convert the program to a voucher system for people under 55 now, saying his proposal and Ryans were probably ”the same — if not identical, it’s probably close to identical.”

And while Romney and Ryan have launched an extensive counter-assault on Team Obama over the $716 billion they say was cut from the entitlement program, they do so from a position of weakness — and risk making their greatest liability a central issue in the campaign.

The Obama campaign fired off their first on-air salvo in the coming Medicare Wars on Friday morning, the first in a series targeted at maintaining an edge in Florida.

2. Boston Is Reining Him In

AARON P. BERNSTEIN / Reuters

The usually gregarious Congressman, who has been known to appear three times a day on CNBC and grant interviews to all comers has vanished into the Mittness Protection Program. In his first week on the campaign trail Ryan has largely avoided his national press corps, sitting for hand-selected television interviews.

Reporters accumulated more than a dozen hours traveling with Ryan across the country on the hopes of scoring a coveted “avail” at the back of the plane. They best Ryan’s managed was a meager “peace” from the first class cabin of his MD-83 to reporters — accompanied by the two figure sign — and only then as reporters waved at him to get his attention. Ryan’s birthday lunch/interview with Yahoo’s Chris Moody was the only exception, though as soon as Moody asked a question about Medicare, he and the press pool and Moody were ushered out of the Hot Dog Shoppe.

3. Ryan Fires Romney Up

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Romney aides have frequently cited the chemistry between the two as the reason for Ryan’s selection, and that has unquestionably been on display this week.
“I think they enjoy each other,” Romney adviser Stuart Stevens told BuzzFeed. “They feed off each other.”

Romney and Ryan split off after a hero’s welcome in Waukesha, Wisconsin that left Ryan crying and Romney teary-eyed. It was the most emotion moment of the Republican campaign; it was also intended to be the last time they’d see each other before the convention.

“Do we ever get a chance to campaign together or is that like, we’ve now experienced that…,” Romney joked minutes before the Waukesha event. “Does that ever happen again,” Ryan asked, laughing, with Romney asking his aides: “Do I get to see him until the inauguration?”

The chummy relationship is authentic aides say; so, unquestionably, are the massive and enthusiastic crowds. Romney experienced the largest crowds of his campaign in the two days he spent stumping with Ryan, and in their several days apart he’s been missing the energy and the company. Romney is calling Ryan back to his bus for a New Hampshire town hall on Monday morning.

4. Ryan Is A Washington Insider

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

When they first rolled him out, the Romney campaign tried to drive the narrative that Ryan would have had a successful business career had he not decided to serve his country in Washington. The fact is, Ryan is a consummate DC insider who is in many ways still a young Budget Committee staffer on the Hill.
Ryan’s wonkery — his core Capitol Hill political asset — is a fluency in the language of baselines and complex legislative process. That language is not always English.

“We didn’t propose it,” Ryan said of the $716 billion in Medicare cuts he has been hammering Obama on but featured in his signature budget. “It was in the baseline. And when we voted to repeal Obamacare we voted to repeal all of it.”
This insider language may make the conservative base swoon and infuriate the professional left, but it is also the sort of confusing Capitol Hill rationalizing that has laid low many a legislator on the national stage.

5. Ryan Is Getting The Conservative Base In Line

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Romney’s pick of Ryan is accomplishing what has eluded Romney since winning the nomination in April — winning over the conservative wing of his party. Ryan, though he doesn’t advertise it, is as reliable social conservative as Senator Rick Santorum, opposing abortion in every case and backing a federal Constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman.

His fiscal conservatism, meanwhile, isn’t just a matter of white papers. Indeed, he stands for the suggestion that the conservatism of Tea Party gatherings and think tank reports could be translated in to the salable political language of “saving America.” With Romney backed into accepting much of his policy, the campaign will now serve as a test of that thesis, one whose success or failure will set the course for the conservative movement.

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