In his first post-Election Day television interview, former GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan said Monday that he doesn’t believe that the 2012 White House campaign was a referendum on his plan to cut the federal budget and overhaul entitlement programs such as Medicare.
“I don’t think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare,” Ryan told Jessica Arp, a reporter for Madison CBS affiliate WISC-TV, when asked whether the race was a referendum on his budget blueprint.
When Mitt Romney announced Ryan as his running mate, Democrats vowed to make Medicare a centerpiece of the campaign. But exit polls suggest that the issue was not as potent as Democrats had believed it would be. The GOP ticket won seniors, for instance, 56 percent to 44 percent; those numbers are not too different from four years ago, when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won older voters 53 percent to 45 percent.
Among the potential reasons why the battle played out against Democrats’ expectations: Republicans aggressively countered Democrats’ messaging on Medicare with their own offensive, arguing that President Obama “robbed” $716 billion from the program to pay for Obamacare. The GOP ticket also emphasized at their campaign stops that their plan to overhaul the program would not affect current seniors.
In Monday’s interview, which comes on the eve of the opening of Congress’ lame duck session, Ryan acknowledged that he and Romney were “surprised by the outcome” of the election and that “losing never feels good.”
But he maintained that he was “very fortunate to have had this experience.”
Of the GOP ticket’s loss in his home state of Wisconsin – which Obama won by a seven-point margin – Ryan said that he was surprised by some of the turnout, particularly in urban areas. He added that he believed Romney chose him as his running mate not to deliver the state but rather because of his knowledge of budget issues.
Ryan declined to answer questions about his own political future, but he said that for now he plans to return to the House and reassume his role as budget committee chairman, a post for which he’s expected to seek and be granted a waiver by party leadership in order to override House GOP term-limit rules.
As for the task currently facing Congress – negotiations over the upcoming “fiscal cliff” – Ryan reiterated Republicans’ opposition to raising tax rates. But he echoed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in emphasizing the need for both sides not to compromise, but rather to “find a way to find common ground.”
“We now have divided government like we had before. The divided government that we had over the last two years didn’t work. ... We’re going to have to find a way to make divided government work, and the focus here is to prevent this fiscal cliff from hurting the economy and getting people back to work,” Ryan said.
One of the lessons he took away from last week’s election, he added, is that voters “don’t want only Democratic ideas or only Republican ideas” but rather an environment where both sides can work together.
Ryan's first national post-election TV interview, with ABC's Jon Karl, is expected to air on Tuesday and Wednesday.