Vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) just completed a conference call with reporters from conservative media outlets, a move reflecting that the Romney-Ryan team understands all too well that it will not be able to get its message out through the mainstream media. Ryan said simply, “We have no better asset than the facts.”
He rejected the idea that the race is getting away from the Republicans. “This is a close race,” he emphasized. He told the reporters that the “sugar high” from the Democratic National Convention is already dissipating. “The next eight weeks are a battle of ideas, “ he said.
For more than a year and well before he was in consideration as vice president, Ryan spoke wherever and whenever he could on the need to offer “two visions” to the country: an opportunity society vs. a dependency society. He reiterated that today, saying, “We want an affirming victory.” By running on a distinct set of ideas, he explained, Republicans will have “moral authority, the mandate and the courage” to pursue their pro-growth agenda.
Interestingly he pointed to Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” as evidence of President Obama’s leadership deficit and as proof that ”his vision is far to the left of most Americans.”
Responding to a question, Ryan said that he felt “very comfortable” dealing with the foreign-policy issues that have moved front and center in the campaign. He said that he has “delved into” these issues ever since Sept. 11, 2001. He stated unequivocally that the events of the last 48 hours are “the results of projecting weakness abroad. If you create a vacuum, it will be filled by bad actors.”
Ryan took issue with the president’s defense cuts, both in the budget and beyond that in the sequester. He stressed that now is not the right time to cut defense. He stated that the sum total of Obama’s foreign policy “spells . . . retreat, weakness.” He continued, “You need to speak with moral authority.” A Romney-Ryan administration, he promised, will understand the need “to speak in favor of democratic capitalism and our values.”
In case there was any doubt, he reiterated that retreat with vacillations ”invites weakness or the perception of weakness.”
As for the Cairo embassy attack, Ryan said he would not comment on reports that the embassy guards did not have ammunition “without all the facts.” He did remind reporters that the Obama administration ”took a while to walk [the unapproved Cairo apology] back.” Without commenting on the rules of engagement in Cairo, he said, “Our mission ti the safety and security of our people.” Toward the end of the call he said the campaign had not received national security briefings from the Obama administration but said that it “was in the works.” He said he could not discuss the timing or why those had not happened already.
I asked Ryan about the gap between the pile of policy proposals and the perception that the campaign is lacking detail or ideas. He joked that he was learning a new word — “narrativizing,” meaning that “our opponents or some in the media” are feeding a story line at odds with the facts. He said firmly that “Mitt Romney has put out more specifics on on policies, more details on the budget . . . than the president of the United States, and certainly the Senate,” pointing to his energy, budget and tax policies, along with others.
He said that the campaign would continue to hammer home its proposals, saying that he was optimistic the economy (and specifically the bond market) would turn “quickly” if the GOP ticket wins. He stressed that the campaign is going to continue talking about pro-growth policies. “We’re not going to shy away,” he said.
Later in the Q and A, Ryan acknowledged that the campaign would need to grab more of the voters who think we are on the “wrong track,” but he argued that until the convention the campaign did not have all its resources at its disposal. He recalled that “from mid-March to the convention” the Romney was “carpet-bombed” by negative ads. He added, “And we’re still tied!”
The campaign will continue to paint the contrast between “four more years of the same” and the Romney pro-growth agenda, Ryan said. He bluntly added that the campaign needed to “get around the mainstream media “ and get directly to the voters.
As for the battleground states, he said that the size and energy of crowds to greet the Republican ticket reminds him of the recall contest in Wisconsin. Then, he said, Republicans came to understand that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” He contends that in Wisconsin and other swing states he can see the same level of energy. “People understand the moment,” he argued.
Lastly, he was asked about the House vote in countermanding Obama’s welfare-waiver policy. He said he’d return next week for the vote. He observed, “It’s not a secret President Obama opposed the Clinton-era welfare reforms.”
The call revealed some of the Romney-Ryan ticket’s thinking. First, it plainly understands the need to go around and over the heads of the mainstream media and to buck up the base. Second, it doesn't buy the liberal spin that it’s running a referendum election; Ryan has always argued for and talked about two visions and giving the voters a clear choice. Lastly, Ryan seemed to suggest that the campaign views its breakout moment not as one single event or blow but the full-funded pounding on the contrasting economic (and now nationals security) views of the candidates.
From my vantage point, the key for the GOP will be in making the connection between Obama’s failed vision and our current problems, and then explaining how their own tax, energy and budget plans will improve the lives of average voters. They need, in other words, to connect the dots. Why will Romney's tax plan give a shot in the arm to the economy? How will energy development boost the economy?
The race is closer than Obama’s spinners would admit, but it remains to be seen whether the Romney-Ryan team can break through. It should nevertheless be comforting to conservatives that the candidates know the importance of ideas, the need for repetition and the cloud of distraction and distortion that they are up against.