“I’m kind of a PowerPoint guy, so I hope you’ll bear with me,” said Paul Ryan on Saturday at a town-hall meeting in Orlando, Fla. As Ryan talked through four slides about the looming fiscal crisis, the crowd at the University of Central Florida listened quietly, and then asked questions.
Ryan was at ease as he strolled around an elevated platform. He pointed up at the video screen hanging from the ceiling and discussed the trajectory of federal spending, as well as the Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare. He laughed, he lectured, and he engaged with attendees.
For longtime Ryan watchers, it was a classic moment of Ryan as teacher — a role he relishes. But it is a role he has played infrequently on the presidential trail. Mitt Romney and Ryan held a joint town hall meeting in August, but for the past month, they’ve mostly held rallies.
Ryan’s use of colorful pie charts and PowerPoint slides over the weekend signals a subtle shift in his stump strategy. Two Republicans close to Ryan tell National Review Online that Ryan has privately pushed his advisers to add more town-hall meetings to his schedule.
“[Ryan] really wants to open things up and get back to the bread and butter of the budget,” says a Ryan confidant. A second Ryan source agrees, telling NRO that the wonky lawmaker wants to use the sessions to highlight how the Romney camp “sees this as a ‘choice’ election.”
ABC News reported this week that Ryan has held over 500 town-hall meetings as a congressman in Wisconsin, but he has held only two in his first month on the Romney ticket. Over the past two weeks, however, Ryan has held three town halls, and top Ryan aides say more are coming soon.
Ryan advisers insist that Romney’s Boston headquarters has worked closely with Ryan to prepare, and that Romney’s digital and press teams have assisted with the slides. “There is harmony,” says a Ryan adviser. “It’s all about getting the message out in an effective way.”
Ryan’s current presentation is a compressed version of the town-hall meetings he holds in his southeastern-Wisconsin district. Instead of using the ten to fifteen slides he uses with his constituents, Ryan now uses four slides that focus on two specific themes: spending and the deficit.
“He is comfortable at rallies, but he’s very good at focusing on policy and translating it into the language of everyday life,” says Yuval Levin, a conservative policy writer. Levin says Ryan enjoys the town-hall setting because it enables him to “connect real life” to fiscal data.
“I’m basically asserting my own preferences now, and I like it,” Ryan recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I spent a good bit of time doing rallies and events, and I got to realizing, that you know what, I want to do more town hall meetings . . . It’s more interactive.”
Ryan aides say the vice-presidential nominee will continue to click through PowerPoint in the coming days, though they are open to adjusting the slides as Ryan tinkers the show. “He will use these four slides as a way of building the larger argument,” says a Ryan adviser.
Aides say the slide presentation is compressed due to time constraints. When he would hold PowerPoint meetings at the Capitol or in Janesville, Wis., Ryan would have more than an hour to discuss the material. On the trail, he has an hour and time for about six questions.
So far, Ryan aides say, the candidate’s enthusiasm at the town halls reflects how he feels about the move away from stage-managed and scripted rallies. It’s obvious that, having settled into the national spotlight, Ryan is more comfortable with the platform and with being extemporaneous.