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The Making Of Paul Ryan


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep on the morning after Paul Ryan addressed the Republican convention.

PAUL RYAN: Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What is missing is leadership in the White House.


INSKEEP: Paul Ryan's selection for the Republican vice presidential nomination surprised some analysts a couple of weeks ago, though he was always considered among the handful under consideration. His rise to prominence, it turns out, is not an accident, as Jonathan Martin is reporting for Politico. He joins us the program.

Welcome. Good morning.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's in Tampa. Now, we should be clear. It's not that Paul Ryan campaigned for vice president for years. But you say that he has spent years making just the right kinds of allies in Washington.

MARTIN: He has spent a long time in the capital cultivating a cadre of right-leaning allies in the conservative media, Steve, and the conservative intellectual world. This was not some kind of accidental moment where he was plucked out of obscurity. His march to the national GOP ticket this year began when he was a young staffer working at Jack Kemp's think tank, for Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett, when Ryan himself was in his early to mid 20s.

And from that point, moving on to his years in Congress, he has really worked aggressively at developing relationships and doing what I call an outside in strategy, where you build up power outside the institution and you use that power to force your way into the top of the institution, meaning Congress.

He really leveraged his way into power there, not by playing the traditional inside game where you develop relationships and you give out PAC contributions or you do logrolling with your colleagues, but by working folks on the outside - the Wall Street Journal editorial paper, the Weekly Standard, the National Review.

INSKEEP: And we should be clear here. There are a lot of committee chairman we never hear of or hardly hear of, but they're extremely powerful inside Congress. You're saying that this particular guy, on his way to becoming a committee chairman, built a public profile by getting mentioned again and again in the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, elsewhere.

MARTIN: And how many budget chairmen have you heard of? I mean, you know, until Paul Ryan came along, it was not really a high profile position. But, yes, you know, in part because the Republican Party, starting in 2007, and the Congress was out of power, and in part because, you know, he really was assiduous at cultivating these folks, he created a profile where in the last few years he's gotten well over 100 mentions in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages alone, not even counting the news side.

And that kind of buzz, along with, you know, magazine references in places like the Weekly Standard and the National Review, got him on Fox more and made his budget, not just the annual budget the Republicans put up, but really the centerpiece of the Republican agenda in the Congress.

GREENE: Is this the kind of thing that just about every politician tries to do or dreams of doing, but he just did it a lot better?

MARTIN: No. I think this is a new approach to gaining political power. It is different than what we've seen with past members of Congress who've, you know, risen 25, 30 years in the ranks to some level of influence. I think it reflects, Steve, (unintelligible), the sort of times we're in now, where the way to obtain power increasingly is by getting these outside validators, developing a profile with them. And then your colleagues, who see these people and respect their views, you know, ultimately have no choice but to include you at the table of leadership.

I think this is a fascinating approach in a party that traditionally has been a royalist party, where...

INSKEEP: You wait your turn.

MARTIN: You wait your turn. And this is something totally different.

INSKEEP: So he has persuaded conservative opinion shapers. He raised his profile. That gave him influence in the party and influence in Congress. And then, of course, last night he was speaking directly to the public and not through opinion shapers. Very, very briefly, how do you think he did in that job last night?

MARTIN: I think he had a very strong performance. The delegates in the hall were very enthused, obviously. And, look, I think after a sluggish start to this convention, what he did, certainly - Condi Rice did - was really - energized the crowd for the first time and effectively start this convention.

INSKEEP: Jonathan, thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thanks so much, Steve. Enjoy it.

Jonathan Martin is a reporter for Politico. He wrote in recent days about the carefully constructed rise of Paul Ryan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.