Paul Ryan: It’s About the Economy, and Especially Young Voters


           Photos by Alan Clanton


Paul Ryan: It’s About the Economy, and Especially Young Voters

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review Editor

Tampa, Florida: More so for Republicans than for Democrats, conventions of both major parties require red meat, those moments of raw power and emotion where the party’s loyalists and base supporters are thrown ready-to-eat sources of political protein. Watched by millions of viewers on television, such displays of energy are meant also to be tools of persuasion for undecided, uncertain or wavering voters.

For the GOP faithful gathered in Tampa last night, there was nutrition aplenty.

There was John McCain, rallying the warriors to bring the Republican brand back to the White House. There was Tim Pawlenty, zinging President Obama with some of the evening’s best one-liners. There was Mike Huckabee, calling for a return to faith while also deftly turning the issue of religious intolerance back on the Democrats. There was Susana Martinez, peppering her speech with phrases of Spanish and reaching out—like Ann Romney the night before—to women voters. For all the Wednesday speakers, it was an opportunity to keep the issue squarely where Republicans want it: on the economy.

And there was Condoleezza Rice, an instant star who inspired some of the most thunderous applause of the night—not by her delivery of the usual neo-conservative views of foreign policy and democracy abroad, popular enough with many of the Republicans gathered there last night—but by a surprisingly emotional and heartfelt paean to the values of hard work, diligence and achievement, the truly personal story of a young girl who grew up in segregated Alabama and who would eventually become Secretary of State.

But Wednesday’s headliner was vice-Presidential pick Paul Ryan. In his first major opportunity since being selected by Mitt Romney to address Republicans as a whole—as well a chance to connect with those watching on television or online—Ryan sought to hit a home run. Many analysts say he did just that, with a speech even more effective and biting than New Jersey’s Chris Christie’s crowd-pleaser on Tuesday night.

Ryan kept the heart of his speech on fiscal priorities, as well as the punishing effects of a recession now approaching its fifth year.

Ryan was also methodical—even conciliatory at times—with his attacks on the President, acknowledging the “very tough days” Obama faced in his first months in office. “Any fair measure of his record,” Ryan said, “has to take that into account.” Ryan then cited the example of a GM factory poised for closure in 2008 in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, an industrial sit which Obama visited while campaigning for President. Obama had said that with government intervention the factory could remain a major employer for another 100 years.

“Well, as it turned out,” Ryan told the audience, “that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns, where the economy that was promised is nowhere in sight.” Ryan cited high unemployment and underemployment as a direct byproduct of a failed Obama economic policy. He also said that time is running dangerously short to bring about a decisive turnaround.

(Ryan’s comment about that GM plant had, before the sun came up today, already ignited a tempest when some Democrats complained that the speech made it sound like Obama had a personal stake in closing the facility, which was most clearly not what Ryan had said nor implied).

Ryan assaulted Obama on every major front—from Obamacare to entitlements to government spending. And the crowd loved it, giving him two dozen standing ovations.

Like candidate Romney, Ryan also lambasted the President for his negative ads and low-road tenor. “With all of their attack ads,” Ryan said, “The President is just throwing away lots of money…and he’s pretty experienced at that!”

Ryan, a multi-term Congressman from Wisconsin, has added what some believe was an important form of balance to the GOP ticket—a fiscal conservative with an encyclopedic understanding of budgets, expenditures and taxes—someone with the policy wonk expertise of a Jack Kemp (who Ryan referenced during his speech). (See also “Paul Ryan: A Bold, Risky Choice, or the Safest Choice? August 11, 2012).

Ryan, who is 42, also made a conscious appeal to younger voters early in his speech, drawing a humorous distinction between the music favored by Romney at campaign events versus Ryan’s musical preferences. “We are a generation apart, Governor Romney and I. And in some ways, we’re a little different. There are songs on his iPod, which I’ve heard at campaign events and also in many hotel elevators.” Ryan said his own playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Led Zeppelin.

Clearly hoping to seize some of the energy of the same young voters who were instrumental in Obama’s success in 2008, the Romney campaign hopes to deploy Ryan as a voice of the next generation of Americans, especially those voters among Generations X and Y who now face a potentially shrunken economy with fewer options for employment and even fewer for advancement.

“College graduates,” Ryan said in one his memorable lines, “should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at the faded Obama poster on the wall and wondering when they can finally move out and get going with life.”

Before the night was out some in the mainstream press—among them many liberal analysts—had already responded to this aspect of Ryan’s speech as a wasted effort, referring to Ryan’s conservatism as being inescapably at odds with the political views of young voters. But, sitting near me at the convention, some of the younger Republicans—and a few of the older ones as well—recalled similar sweeping assumptions about the “youth vote” in past times: in 1972 when so many young people voted for Richard Nixon; in 1980 and 1984 when millions of young voters chose Ronald Reagan; and again in 2000 when George W. Bush made inroads into the under-30 vote almost as deeply as Al Gore.

Ryan also posed the question which most closely resembled Reagans famous debate close remarks from 1980, when he asked viewers to draw a distinction between himself and incumbent Jimmy Carter by asking “are you better off than you were four years ago?”

“Millions of young Americans,” Said Ryan, “have graduated from college during the Obama presidency, ready to use their gifts and talents and get moving in life. Half of them can’t find the work they’ve studied for, or any work at all…So here’s the question: without a change of leadership, why would we expect the next four years to be any different from the last four years?”

Obama’s sweeping wins among younger voters in 2008 was seen by some analysts as decisive, and clearly the GOP wants to make headway with those of Gen-X who feel frustrated and even betrayed by an economy still mired deeply in recession.

But Ryan’s main task was—like those before him that night—to sing the praises of the Republican nominee. While Ryan’s tone was gregarious and challenging when he spoke of Obama, Ryan shifted to a more subdued tenor when he spoke of the GOP-nominee. Like others that night, from McCain to Martinez to Huckabee, Ryan sought to soften the image of Mitt Romney by highlighting his generosity and his love of family.

Ryan also took the message back to the core argument which Republicans will make: Obama has done little to bring about economic recovery after four years; Mitt Romney is a man experienced at jobs creation who will return the nation to growth and prosperity.

Still, the real story may be Condi Rice, whose comments electrified the hall. More than a few of the GOP faithful sitting near me commented openly that they would support Rice in 2016 if she were to make a bid for the Presidency.


Article filed from Tampa, Florida. Additional updates from the convention will be posted tonight and tomorrow. Additional thanks go to Lindsey and Kevin Mineer for logistical assistance.