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What Ryan Brings To Romney's Bid


For more on the announcement, joining me in the studio are Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and contributing editor for the Weekly Standard Matthew Continetti. Gentlemen, it's wonderful to see you again.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to see you.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Good to see you.

WERTHEIMER: Let's first hear Paul Ryan from an interview with NPR in May of 2012. This was shortly after he released his first budget as chairman of the Budget Committee.


WERTHEIMER: Today, after the announcement, Ryan hammered again on the job creation issue.

: I'm proud to stand with a man who understands what it takes to foster job creation in our economy; someone who knows from experience that if you have a small business, you did build that.


WERTHEIMER: He is, of course, playing on comments made by President Obama about small businesses, that Republicans have seized on. So, Matt, some conservatives are clamoring for Mitt Romney to go bold in his selection of a running mate. And some notable conservative publications were pushing Paul Ryan. What do you think he brings?

CONTINETTI: Well, he brings a lot. You know, I compare it around this time four year ago - John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. And at time, the Palin pick was really, like, you launched a grenade into the 2008 race, and everything kind of blew up and it was a tumultuous time. I think of the Ryan pick as almost a quantum charge. So, it's not a grenade. It's something that electrifies both sides. And it raises the debate, which has been for the past three months concerned almost exclusively with Bain Capital and Mitt Romney's tax returns. It raises the debate now to a much higher level of ideas and policies, which could possibly benefit both sides.

WERTHEIMER: And what do you think of that E.J., both sides, there are opportunites for the Democrats in the Ryan budget, as I understand it.

DIONNE: Indeed. I think Matt and I are very excited, both of us this morning. But for somewhat different reason. It really does guarantee that it's a big election. Mitt Romney now owns every number, comma and semicolon in the Ryan budget unless he specifically disassociates himself from it, including the Medicare cuts and the deep cuts in programs for the poor, big cuts for the wealthy. I think there's something else about this. Matt, I think, wisely mentioned Sarah Palin. I have only a slightly different twist on that, which is: there's a bold choice that's also a sign of weakness. If Mitt Romney were not behind in polls - and it appears that he is - the conservatives wouldn't have been in a position to pressure him, and he wouldn't have felt an obligation to throw a long pass - whatever cliche you want to do - do something to shake up the race.

Candidates who find themselves in a position of using their running mate pick to shake up a race usually aren't in a very good shape. McCain picking Palin was a mistake, Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro. I honor him for putting the first woman on the ticket, but it obviously didn't work in that case.

So, I think this is bold and a sign of weakness at the same time.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Matt, looking at vice presidential picks from a broad perspective, do you think that this will be a bump? Do you think vice president really matters?

CONTINETTI: Well, I think in this case, it actually does. Because, yeah, Paul Ryan is going to be the vice presidential nominee. But, in a way, when I was listening to Mitt Romney, it was almost as though Mitt Romney was introducing the presidential nominee of his party.

WERTHEIMER: Well, in fact, he did say that...

CONTINETTI: Not necessarily. His...

DIONNE: That line is going to be in a negative ad, I know it.

CONTINETTI: His running mate. I mean, I think, now, essentially, the election is between Obama and Ryan. And the truth is, our national debate...

WERTHEIMER: Well, that's an extraordinary thing to say, Matt.

CONTINETTI: Well, just wait for the attack ads that are going to start pouring out of the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. And the fact is, the national debate, for the last three years has been between Obama and Ryan, whether it was at the House retreat in February of 2010, whether it was at the health care summit a month later, whether it was when the April speech at Georgetown over the Ryan budget. Ryan and Obama are the two poles of the national conversation, and that is the choice that faces the American people in November.

DIONNE: I couldn't agree more, and I think that what you're going to hear is that Paul Ryan on economic and domestic policy is to Mitt Romney as Dick Cheney was to George W. Bush on foreign policy. And I'm sure you're going to hear that metaphor.

So, yes, Ryan - you could not have had, I think, a more consequential choice than Paul Ryan. What he gives up, by the way, in, say, not picking Rob Portman? Much safer choice. Portman might have helped him some in Ohio. I was talking this week to an Ohio politician who said I'm pushing for Portman as a homer. I love Portman. But also, he could move 50, 100,000 votes in southern Ohio, and that could make a big difference in this race.

WERTHEIMER: If this does become a contest between Obama and Ryan, that will be a first. I mean, I have always believed that the American people vote for president. They vote for the top. And Matt, just can imagine that you're right about this.

CONTINETTI: Well, maybe in some cases that will be the end of the day empirically. What I'm saying, in terms of the messaging over the next three months, the fight is between Ryan's ideas and Barack Obama's ideas. I also want to talk about some of the - it's not just ideas in Ryan's case. It's also biography. That's true, Rob Portman came from Ohio; he would be a crucial asset in Ohio. But let's remember, in Paul Ryan we have, you know, a white, Catholic from the Midwest, who hunts, who noodles catfish, who, you know, he grew up with his dad died early in his life. He has a story that I think can appeal to the white working class who will decide this election.

DIONNE: I agree that Ryan has a great biography and I think the white working-class vote will depend on do you like Ryan's biography? In which case, you vote for that ticket. Or do you like his ideas? And I think the Obama people are going to focus on the ideas.

But just on your point, Linda, about we vote for president. That's absolutely right. The problem is Mitt Romney has been insufficiently defined, has insufficiently defined himself, has had a whole series of positions when he was governor of Massachusetts, and then in many cases, a new set of positions when he ran for president. And I think it's the protean nature of Mitt Romney that makes Matt broadly right about how much Ryan now defines Mitt Romney.

WERTHEIMER: Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, and contributing editor for the Weekly Standard Matthew Continetti. Thank you both very much for joining us.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CONTINETTI: Thank you.


WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.