Tampa, Fla. — The official line is that Paul Ryan spent two weeks preparing for his speech at the Republican National Convention. In the beginning, there were late-night chats about the theme with his speechwriters, John McConnell and Matthew Scully. Later came the practice sessions at a Holiday Inn Express in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., and in the final days, there were frantic editing sessions aboard the campaign plane and inside the Marriott hotel near the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
But according to sources close to him, Ryan rarely sweated the preparation, even though his Wednesday-night appearance before the cheering throngs of Republican delegates was, in a sense, his national introduction. To the 42-year-old congressman, who was elected to the House in 1998, the speech was always a continuation of an argument he has made since he came to Washington, two decades ago, to write speeches for his mentor, Jack Kemp, the late supply-side Congressman.
Ryan has accomplished much since he was a twentysomething aide, and his adherence to conservative principles is, evidently, as strong as ever. He took care to cite Kemp tonight, in the biggest speech of his political career, to send a message about who Paul Ryan is as a thinker — to go beyond the anecdotes about his days flipping burgers at McDonald’s or his recent efforts as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
“As with Kemp, Paul has always been a happy warrior, and he remains a happy warrior,” says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director. “Democrats try to portray him as the austerity king, but he is a champion for growth.”
Standing at the podium, Ryan ably weaved his biography and his political philosophy into a celebration of economic freedom and an articulation of the GOP ticket’s brand, which is a combination of competency and fiscal courage. “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. “Mitt Romney and I have made ours: Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation’s economic problems.”
“And I’m going to level with you: We don’t have that much time,” Ryan said, as the activists nodded. “But if we are serious, and smart, and we lead, we can do this.”
Since Romney tapped Ryan to be his running mate earlier this month, Ryan has worn many hats on the campaign trail, from attack dog to budget expert. And Wednesday’s remarks had elements of all those roles. There were withering critiques of President Obama’s economic record and a sober discussion about federal spending. Ryan, however, worked to personalize each passage. On Capitol Hill, he often sticks to data-heavy speeches on the House floor, which win plaudits from politicos, but here, speaking to the entire country, he painted his vision with broad strokes.
“So here we are, $16 trillion in debt and still [Obama] does nothing,” Ryan said. “They have no answer to this simple reality: We need to stop spending money we don’t have.”