Whether next January finds Ryan moving into the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory or back sleeping in his office on Capitol Hill, “he needs to continue to do what he does best and just trust that his gifts will make room for him, where he needs to be,” said Chickonoski, a pastor from the nearby town of Poland who came to see Ryan on Saturday at Youngstown State University.
Lately, Mitt Romney’s campaign has decided that Ryan needs to be at center stage. That is partly to take advantage of the buzz around Thursday’s vice-presidential debate and partly to quiet the grumbling among Republicans that Ryan had all but disappeared from the national conversation after the GOP convention.
In doing so, the campaign is also drawing attention to the unique role that Ryan plays in the modern conservative movement. He is a signpost to its future, many believe, regardless of what happens on Election Day.
Although it may not have altered the course of the presidential race, Ryan’s steady, stumble-free debate performance against an incumbent vice president 27 years his senior enhanced his stature.
“If you’re 42 and it’s your first national appearance in that kind of situation and you’re still on the stage when it’s over, you won,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich. “I thought he was gaining confidence as the evening wore on.”
“I thought Paul did exceptionally well, and it by no means surprised me. Under stress, he’s very calm,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a friend and ally who wept when Ryan delivered his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
“For people who admire Paul Ryan and like Paul Ryan, what they saw was more Paul Ryan,” Walker added.
After weeks in which Romney and Ryan had campaigned separately, in recent days they have been making joint appearances.
“Whenever I’ve seen the two of them together at events, I see a more passionate Mitt Romney,” Walker said. “They’ve not only let [Ryan] be himself, but they’ve also let him have an influence on Mitt Romney.”
Ryan frequently describes his ascent to the ticket as a moment of generational significance, one that gives a seat at the table to those born in the decades after the baby boom. They and their children are the ones, he points out, who will inherit the debts that their parents and grandparents ran up, weakening the safety net for everyone.
Even before he became Romney’s running mate, Ryan was regarded as the leading intellectual force in the conservative movement. The House Budget Committee chairman wrote and championed a fiscal blueprint that has been embraced by virtually the entire Republican establishment.