Shortly after Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee, Gallup released a survey on the Wisconsin representative’s standing with the public. 39 percent said he was an excellent or pretty good pick, compared to 42 percent who said he was only fair or poor. This is an even split, but compared to other nominees, it’s the least positive reaction since Dan Quayle in 1988 — even Sarah Palin left the gate with 46 percent saying she was an excellent or pretty good choice.
But because Ryan is unknown to most of the country — 58 percent have never heard of him — this isn’t the hurdle it looks like; Republicans still have a chance to define Ryan in the public eye. Romney, in particular, is trying to introduce his running mate as earnest, moderate and happy to work with the other side. On Sunday, while campaigning in Virginia, Romney praised Ryan’s collaboration with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), “This man said I’m going to find Democrats to work with. He found a Democrat to co-lead a piece of legislation.”
Wyden downplays the extent of the collaboration — describing it as little more than a “policy paper”— but Republicans have grasped the Ryan-Wyden Medicare proposal as a way to beat back Democratic attacks on Ryan’s own Medicare plan. In The American Spectator, senior editor Quin Hillyer cites Ryan-Wyden as evidence of Democratic support for premium support — the basis of Ryan’s plan — and the Wall Street Journal editorial board does the same, by presenting Ryan’s reforms as the only reasonable course for Medicare.
An attempt to paint Paul Ryan as bipartisan was inevitable, but regardless, it’s not true. In The Post this morning, David Fahrenthold cites several lawmakers and former staffers who are clear about Ryan’s allergy to compromise:
“No, goodness, gracious.” said Steve Bell, a longtime Republican staffer on the Hill, who now works at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Certainly those of us who admire Paul Ryan do not admire him because he has been able to bring George Miller or Nancy Pelosi . . . over to his side.” Miller is a liberal California Democrat, Pelosi (Calif.) is the Democratic minority leader.
Likewise, a story in Bloomberg describes how Ryan led the charge against the 2010 Bowles-Simpson agreement, the most recent attempt to build a framework for bipartisan budget reform, which has been touted by Romney as a model for fiscal adjustment:
The 18-member panel needed 14 votes to send a 10-year plan to trim the debt to Congress for a vote. As his party’s then- ranking member on the House Budget Committee, Ryan led a bloc of three House Republicans who denied the additional votes needed.
There’s always a chance that Republicans will succeed in hiding Ryan’s vulnerabilities from the public. But that strikes me as unlikely. Ryan has been the ideological voice of the Republican Party for the last three-and-a-half years. The upside of this is that he can provide vision for Romney’s campaign, which is part of why he was picked. The downside, of course, is that he has an unusually long paper trail of controversial statements and proposals. For better or for worse, this now belongs to Romney, and no amount of redefinition will change that fact.