Ryan: Conservatives Should ‘Coalesce around Romney’

Representative Paul Ryan, in an interview with National Review Online, is confident that Mitt Romney will work with congressional Republicans to present a united front.

“I’ve spent a good deal of time with Mitt Romney and his staff and I’m convinced that they understand the situation,” Ryan says, speaking by phone from Wisconsin, where he will join the former Massachusetts governor on the trail.

“They understand the choice we have as a country and just what kind of president it’s going to take to get this country turned around, to fix this fiscal mess, and to reapply our founding principles and conservative ideas to the problems of the moment,” he says. “Romney understands that the American idea is up for grabs in November.”

Earlier Friday, Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, endorsed Romney. His decision, long anticipated by primary watchers, signals Romney’s strength with fiscal conservatives.

For the most part, Ryan’s decision was an easy one. “I had two factors,” he says. Over the past few weeks, he mulled each candidate’s platform and their electability. “On those two counts, it’s Romney,” he says. “His mind is right, his attitude is right, and he’s got what it takes.”

But as the primary has plodded ahead, another factor influenced Ryan’s calculus and his timing: He is concerned about the party’s focus. If Republicans continue to wage internecine warfare, he says, they will waste valuable time that could be spent debating President Obama’s agenda.

“The primary has been pretty darn productive, but I think it’s getting to the phase where it could become counterproductive,” Ryan says. “At this stage, it’s best for conservatives to coalesce around Romney.”

Ryan, who recently completed his work as chairman of the Republican National Committee’s presidential trust, is more than aware of the challenges facing Republicans as the party prepares for a general-election brawl.

“That experience gave me a view into just what it takes to put together a successful campaign,” he says. “It’s an enormous task, given how much money Obama is going to raise. The more we drag this thing on, and the less we unify, the harder it will be to win in the fall.”

Ryan, whose staff alerted Rick Santorum’s advisers on Thursday about his decision, urges the former Pennsylvania senator and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, to consider dropping out.

“They’re friends of mine; I’ve known both for a long time,” he says. “I think those guys have run good campaigns. They’ve made this a better race, and they’ve made Romney a better candidate. But we’ve come to a point where there are diminishing returns. A brokered convention in Tampa would be a fiasco.”

On another note, Ryan, who has previously expressed some misgivings about the Bay State’s health-care program, does not believe that Romney’s gubernatorial record will be a problem in the general election.

“I don’t take my comments back,” he says. “I share that skepticism” about Romney’s Massachusetts reforms. “There is nothing I would have said differently. But the point is, Mitt Romney has been extremely clear that he is opposed to Obamacare and committed to repeal. You can get into the debate about federalism,” but “he is going to repeal Obamacare and that is what matters most.”

And what about the veep slot? Is he interested? “It’s something I haven’t given any serious thought to,” Ryan says. “I don’t see any point of giving it serious thought. I’m focused on my job. Congress is important. If that bridge ever came, I’d consider it. In the meantime, I’m not dwelling on it.”

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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