Paul Ryan delivers strong criticism of President Obama in RNC 2012 speech

August 30, 2012

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan took to the stage Wednesday night to accept the Republican nomination for vice president, and in his speech delivered stinging criticisms of President Obama’s first term. As Karen Tumulty reported:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin accepted the GOP nomination for vice president on Wednesday with a declaration that President Obama, who was elected four years ago on a promise of hope and change, has failed and his opportunity has been squandered.

Ryan told delegates gathered at the Republican National Convention here that Obama’s presidency is “adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed.”

Our opponents can consider themselves on notice,” Ryan said. “In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the left isn’t going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.”

Ryan’s nomination will put more pressure on the Republican ticket to articulate and defend its economic vision, rather than simply stoking the electorate’s disappointment and dissatisfaction with Obama. Ryan, however, stuck to broad themes rather than gritty specifics in a speech that marked the first time many Americans have seen and heard the vice presidential nominee.

Again and again, delegates rose to their feet and cheered as Ryan warmed to the traditional running mate’s role as aggressor. Scott Walker, his home-state governor and longtime friend, wept.

“I have never seen opponents so silent about their record and so desperate to keep their power,” Ryan said. “They’ve run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division are all they’ve got left.”

Missing from Ryan’s speech was the wonkiness the House Budget Committee chairman was known for before accepting a spot on Romney’s ticket. As David A. Fahrenthold and Felicia Somnez wrote:

This is already Rep. Paul Ryan’s convention, an admiring deep-red gaggle at which he has been regularly compared to Republican icons such as Jack Kemp, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln.

But it is not Ryan’s party yet. And it is certainly not his country yet: Both still have to be convinced of his ambitious vision to remake government.

And so, on Wednesday night, Ryan began repeating the sales pitch that has defined his life in politics. It starts with the man, not the numbers. The Wisconsin congressman has adopted a campaign persona that plays up his regular-guy status and plays down his reputation as the GOP’s head nerd.

“My dad used to say to me: ‘Son, you have a choice. You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution,’ ” Ryan said as he accepted his party’s nomination for vice president.

Since Mitt Romney chose Ryan as his running mate, there has been little sign of the Budget Committee chairman who wants to reengineer Medicare and who wades confidently through billions and trillions. Instead, Ryan casts himself more simply, as a football-loving family man from the Midwest who hunts deer and catches catfish. During his last big speech, the largest number involved in his personal appeal was 67 — the number of his cousins.

This approach is useful because it does not highlight the differences between Ryan’s big ideas and Romney’s. But it is also a version of a well-honed pitch that has carried Ryan to success in Washington.

He has untraditional ideas about reshaping government, but he takes pains to show that there is nothing untraditional about himself.

The battle to define Paul Ryan in the minds of American voters is a critical one for the GOP to win, as Aaron Blake reported:

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll asked Americans to say what one word comes to mind when they think about the GOP vice presidential nominee. And people have a hard time finding negative things to say about him.

None of the top nine words people use to describe Ryan are are negative, and six of the nine are positive (“intelligent,” “good,” “energetic,” “honest,” etc.).

Not until you get to the 10th- and 11th-most-cited words do Democrats’ attempts to define Ryan begin to register. That’s the point at which people start describing Ryan as an “idiot” and “extremist.”

And of the top 27 most-cited words, twice as many are positive — 16 — as negative — eight.

All of this from a guy who starts out with positive marks, though not overwhelmingly so. In fact, the positive words used to describe Ryan suggest a politician whose favorable rating is far better than it currently is.

In other words, it seems clear that many people have processed positive GOP messages about his intellect and his life story.

More than anything, though, it shows that Democratic attacks have yet to really sink in. Respondents actually offered nearly as many negative words as positive words, but the negative reviews are far more diffuse. Most negative words were only mentioned a handful of times, with little consensus on what’s bad about Ryan.

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