Watching Ryan

by Robert Costa

Danville, Ky. — From the moment he walked on stage, Paul Ryan looked serious. He politely waved to the crowd, sat down, and folded his hands. Vice President Biden looked loose. He had that megawatt grin and a casual manner. It was a clear contrast from the outset, and those impressions lasted for the next 90 minutes. Ryan gave steady, even-tempered answers, took notes, and stuck to his talking points.

It wasn’t Ryan as a wonk, or as the attack dog. It was Ryan as an informed Romney surrogate. That was his game plan, aides say, and for the most part, he executed.

At times, it was unpleasant. Biden repeatedly interrupted Ryan, and the congressman often struggled to complete his answers. The discussion, which frequently focused on foreign policy, barely broached entitlement reform and the economy, which are Ryan’s comfort zones.

Ryan held his own with Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when it came to Iran and Libya. He was well prepped and ready to explain the Romney position. On Libya, he criticized the Obama administration’s failure to “acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack,” and he blasted the White House for “projecting weakness abroad.”

But it wasn’t a knockout performance. Ryan is at his best when he’s talking about the fiscal crisis, and he spent only a few minutes on that issue. When he did, he shone. Ryan also impressed when he discussed his Catholic faith and his pro-life views near the end, with a warm recollection about his first child.

More broadly, Ryan seemed keen to tout Romney, even mentioning how Romney is a “car guy.” He just didn’t have much time to do that. This was a foreign-policy debate, moderated by a foreign correspondent. Ryan didn’t stumble, and he was serious, but he rarely found his groove.

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