Paul Ryan has spent the past three years urging Republicans to be bold, to
pursue a politically risky overhaul of the nation's health care entitlements
and to turn the 2012 election into a stark and defining contest of opposing
Mitt Romney appeared to embrace that strategy Saturday -- by picking Ryan as his running mate.
The decision to tap the 42-year-old House budget chair from Janesville for the GOP ticket signaled a new direction for the Romney campaign, seen as struggling this summer and criticized for an excess of caution.
In Ryan, Romney is getting his party's most influential figure on the budget and economy; a huge favorite of pro-business and free-market conservatives; a skilled politician and self-styled "policy wonk;" a prolific fundraiser and ubiquitous cable news presence; and the architect of two deeply controversial federal budget plans that sharply scale back social spending and health care entitlements.
Ryan's selection punctuates a remarkable rise to influence on the part of the seven-term congressman from southern Wisconsin, who has methodically seized control of his party's economic agenda, first in Congress, and now in a presidential election.
In recent days, influential conservatives had mounted a lobbying campaign on Ryan's behalf, arguing that Romney needs to sharpen the ideological contrast between himself and President Barack Obama, offer a clearer policy agenda, and turn the race into a battle of values and ideas, not just a referendum on the Obama economy.
Notably, these are the exact arguments Ryan himself has been making for the past several years about the 2012 election.
In a long interview with the Journal Sentinel last year, Ryan said he crafted his controversial budgets with the idea in mind of prodding his own party's nominee to take sharp stands and thereby force a more defining election in 2012 -- one that he hoped would produce a governing mandate for Republicans to roll back government spending and change health care entitlements.
"Part of my thinking in doing the budget and doing what we're doing in 2011 is to raise the bar and standards (so) whoever is the nominee is going to have to be someone that meets those standards, so we don't just give it to the next guy in line . . . so that 2012 is a very clear election," said Ryan. "All these past elections have been muddled elections, sort of muddled personality contests, different shades of the same color. . . . We need a clear referendum election, so that when we win, which is obviously our scenario, we have the moral obligation and the moral authority to fix this problem the way we proposed to do it."
Debt, cuts and clear choices
Ryan's view of the 2012 election, expressed in interviews and speeches, rests on a few basic articles of faith.
One is that the U.S. is approaching a debt crisis and an almost apocalyptic point of no return in which the arc of government spending transforms the nation into a "European-style" social welfare state, in which "citizens who had governed themselves will become mere subjects of the state."
"This is a Churchill moment. We see the storm on the horizon. We know it's coming," Ryan said in the same 2011 interview.
Another is that Republicans should run on an explicit agenda of cutting
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