On Friday evening, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wraps up his national book tour at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The $75 tickets for the dinner, lecture and book signing have already sold out, but protesters will be waiting for him inside the library, and outside, too.
The former Republican candidate for vice president has been crisscrossing the country throughout August to promote “The Way Forward,” his volume examining the 2012 election and the future of the GOP. Ryan’s book has sold just over 6,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Bookscan, behind two other new releases from conservative authors: “America” by Dinesh D’Souza and “One Nation” by Ben Carson.
Book tours have long been a means of raising a politician's profile, especially in advance of presidential elections. But the Ryan tour has also offered some insights into what’s on the mind of Ryan’s critics and how the congressman deals with their questions. Thanks to smartphones and YouTube, it has been easy for a critic to turn up to a Ryan book signing and post the results online.
Once upon a time, candidates, armed with just a spin doctor, only had to deal with a reporter’s pen. Now, the threat of being caught out is far greater, so candidates like Ryan are more cautious about what they say. Gaffes can be posted online minutes after they happen, ready for consumption by the national media. In effect, holding candidates to account has been crowdsourced.
During Ryan's stops in Florida, several incidents were videoed and posted online. In particular, Ryan’s vote against amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants has riled United We Dream, a network of young immigrants who live illegally in the United States. Their activists, who campaigned for the DREAM Act granting them amnesty, went to a book singing in Florida to quiz Ryan directly.
Denying amnesty “would put me and my sister up for deportation," said one critic at a signing in Kissimmee, Fla. "We just have one question: Do you want to deport my sister?”
Ryan dismissed the question and told the Dreamer to “read my book” before he was shuffled off by security personnel. Another critic asked the congressman, “Do you want to deport my brother?” Again, Ryan responded, “I want you to read my book.”
A more bizarre incident took place in Pensacola, Fla. A senior citizen tried to ask Ryan about Medicaid, but Ryan insisted on having his picture taken with the woman. While the photograph was taken, she was berating him for giving a “tax break of $5 trillion to millionaires and corporates [sic]”. Ryan again did not answer the question, and the woman was shepherded along after the photo.
At another Ryan book signing, an attendee asked, “I’m 61. Are you planning any cuts to Medicare?”
“No, if you’re in or near retirement, nothing will change,” said Ryan.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan was responsible for creating spending plan that will cut $4.6 trillion of federal spending, of which $2.7 trillion would come from reforming Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. But those above the age of 55 will not be affected, allowing Ryan to say there are no cuts for senior citizens. Further proposed changes to retirement programs for federal employees have also been controversial.
Blake Williams, the deputy communications director for Americans United for Change, says Ryan is being targeted because of his support for the “perennial GOP plan to replace guaranteed Medicare benefits with vouchers.”
“As we've seen from the video encounters with voters during the book tour, Ryan is choosing to handle questions about his unpopular budget, which rewards millionaires while punishing seniors by either blowing them off or telling lies that he plans no benefit cuts,” he said.
Americans United for Change has confirmed that representatives from the Service Employees International Union, Mi Familia Vota and Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles will attend Ryan’s lecture and book signing at the Reagan library on Friday.
Ryan’s signings have differed from those of another potential 2016 candidate keen to raise her profile. Last week, Hillary Clinton managed to sign around 800 copies of “Hard Choices” in two hours at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, Mass. Although Clinton fans were rapidly moved on in line, the former secretary of state briefly passed the time of day with her fans. Unlike Ryan, no critics turned up to raise their concerns.
Ben Carson, whose “One Nation” book is outselling “The Way Forward,” has also been on book tour in August. In Concord, N.C, hundreds of fans turned up to meet the former neurosurgeon and conservative grass-roots favorite. Carson said he has been “overwhelmed” by the response on the tour.
A spokesman for Ryan declined to comment on the protesters who have dogged the events but said he was pleased with how the tour had gone.
Katie Zezima contributed to this report.