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Young Paul Ryan Stood Out Based on the ‘Strength of His Ideas’

August 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Jeffrey Brown talks to a former mentor and colleagues of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan about his early star power, his passion for fiscal issues and his reputation as a policy wonk.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who we have just been discussing, is the star later tonight, with a prime-time slot for his acceptance speech.

Our Jeffrey Brown has been talking to people who have known Ryan for many years.

JEFFREY BROWN:  This afternoon in downtown Tampa, it was beer and brats at a party for a state that’s been much in the political spotlight in the past few years.

Wisconsin delegates celebrated some of their rising stars, most of all Paul Ryan.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), Vice Presidential Candidate:  Hey, thanks so much.  It’s great to see you.

JEFFREY BROWN:  The 42 year old from Janesville has been a fast-riser, spotted early as a man destined to go places.

VIN WEBER, Former U.S. Congressman:  Everybody immediately knew that, even though he was only 22 or 23 years old, this was a real star in the making.

JEFFREY BROWN:  It was Vin Weber who hired the young Ryan to work for Empower America, a conservative advocacy group founded by Jack Kemp.

VIN WEBER:  It was born of a real optimistic vision about what conservative principles can do to make America a better place.

And so that people that came to us, Paul Ryan notable among them, were not frustrated.  They were optimistic.  They were eager to engage in the battle of ideas. They thought ultimately we were going to win the battle of ideas and that this would make America a better place for everybody.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Ryan engaged in ideas and very soon in politics itself, running for the 1st District congressional seat from Wisconsin.  Weber had his doubts.

VIN WEBER:  I ended up saying to him, Paul, I think you would be a great member of Congress, but this is a tough district and I don’t think you can get elected.  So he wisely ignored my advice, went back, and did get elected.  That says a lot about Paul.  He’s not daunted by a challenge.  He believes that he can win based on the strength of his ideas.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Former Wisconsin GOP Chair Steve King, another longtime friend and mentor, officially nominated Ryan last night.  He says that a secret to Ryan’s success has been a true passion and focus on an area that others often find arcane: the federal budget.

STEVE KING, Former Wisconsin Republican Party Chair:  Has had plenty of opportunities for leadership posts in the House that he kind of said, I’m not sure that’s me.  I want to do something for this government in terms of financial policy.  So he stuck with his budget.  And despite having turned down some leadership positions, just kind of, boom, they said, well, then you’re the chairman of the Budget Committee.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Now, he has a reputation, I guess, as sort of a wonk, right?

VIN WEBER:  Yes.  Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Is it deserved?

STEVE KING:  It’s earned.


STEVE KING:  He’s bright.  His major in college was economics.  This is a guy that goes to sleep on his sofa in his office every night when he’s there, which is like three or four nights, reading budgets and reading economic policy.


STEVE KING:  That’s what he does.


STEVE KING:  Yes.  And he doesn’t go to sleep real fast.  He reads it.

JEFFREY BROWN:  In the past several years, Ryan’s influence as an intellectual leader has grown dramatically.  And his proposed prescriptions for spending cuts, lower taxes, and changes to Medicare and other entitlement programs have drawn passionate praise and equally passionate criticism.

In choosing Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has embraced the man and to an extent that’s not fully clear yet his ideas.

I asked pollster Andy Kohut about public reaction.

ANDREW KOHUT, Director, Pew Research Center:  Early polling is a very mixed reaction to him.  Gallup does a survey immediately after his announcement and finds 37 percent positive, 42 percent negative.

We do a survey this past weekend asking people to give us one-word descriptions.  And we find as many negative words as positive words.  In short, he’s one of the least — his initial reaction is the least positive of any vice presidential nominee since Dan Quayle.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Can you find in there any particular attributes about him, whether it’s age or policies or whatever that are driving this?

ANDREW KOHUT:  Well, for Republicans, it’s words that reflect enthusiasm; he’s intelligent, he’s energetic, he’s a good guy, and we agree with him.  For the Democrats, they are saying he’s a phony, he scares me, too negative, too radical, that sort of thing.

JEFFREY BROWN:  But another of Wisconsin’s rising national stars, Governor Scott Walker, is sure that Ryan is going to give an important boost to the presidential nominee.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), Wisconsin:  Most voters, even undecided voters, knew that Mitt Romney had the kind of experience that would make him capable of being a decent president.  You look at his private sector experience, the Olympics, even his record as governor.

JEFFREY BROWN:  A decent president.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER:  Well, no, but this is where my point is.  I think with Paul Ryan, I think his experience alone says decent president.  When Paul Ryan was put on the ticket, not just because he’s from Wisconsin, but I think nationally, what that said is that Mitt Romney, not just Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has the courage and the passion to be an exceptional president.

JEFFREY BROWN:  This afternoon, the junior member of the ticket had a chance to check out the stage and podium where he will make his case to the nation tonight.