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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ryan Brings the Tea Party to the Ticket


For two years, Tea Party lawmakers in the House have been the stubborn barbarians at the gate, strong-arming their often reluctant Republican colleagues by refusing to compromise on spending, taxes, debt or social policy.

But Paul Ryan's ascendency to No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket is a signal event for a movement that firmly counts him as one of their own. If Mitt Romney wins in November, a Tea Party favorite will be a heartbeat from the Oval Office.

More than that, Mr. Ryan is unquestionably the face of the Tea Party caucus in Washington, and his success is certain to embolden House lawmakers whose proudly unyieilding approach to governing has contributed to legislative gridlock.

Once considered a fringe part of the conservative coalition, Tea Party lawmakers are now indisputably at the core of the modern Republican Party.

“Gov. Romney's selection of Congressman Paul Ryan is an excellent choice and a game changer for the presidential election,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas in a statement. “It's now a campaign of ideas on how best to get this economy moving again, balance the budget and restore America.”

He added: “My guess is that Barack Obama has a sick feeling in his stomach today.”

For Mitt Romney, the decision to pick Mr. Ryan has quickly helped to validate him in the eyes of skeptical Tea Party members in the House. Many in the movement had worried that a President Romney would hardly be an ally for their legislative goals.

Choosing Mr. Ryan eases those concerns even as it marks a shift in the movement's balance of power.

“Selecting someone like Paul Ryan, who is so popular with tea party activists, proves that Mitt Romney is committed to addressing the economic issues that have been troubling our nation for the last four years,” said Amy Kremer, the chairman of the Tea Party Expr ess, the movement's largest political action committee, in a statement Saturday.

In his speech accepting the role of Mr. Romney's running mate, Mr. Ryan touted his ability to reach across the aisle to find solutions that are workable to members of both parties.

“I have worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats to advance an agenda of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and job creation,” Mr. Ryan said.

But Mr. Ryan's success may help to harden the political impasse in Washington between Democrats and Republicans, and between the House and the Senate. A huge post-election debate is looming over the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts and entitlement spending, and Mr. Ryan has been urging Tea Party members to stand firm.

If Republicans win the White House in the fall but fail to retake the Senate from Democrats, Tea Party members in the House may see even less reason to compromise on their drive to make the federal government smaller.

“ Congressman Ryan wants the same thing we do: to pass pro-growth policies and shrink the size and scope of government,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “No one understands the dire consequences we face by continuing to ignore our spending problem better than Congressman Ryan, and no one can do a better job of articulating a vision of how to fix it.”

Within the Tea Party caucus, Mr. Ryan is not the most absolutist. He voted for the TARP bailout of big banks at the end of George W. Bush‘s term. And he voted for the bailout of the auto industry. Both actions are anathema to some Tea Party lawmakers. And in some ways, he is not the Tea Party archetype. A six-term congressman who has worked in Washington his entire career, Mr. Ryan is an insider-type politician who works from within the system, not against it.

But as chairman of the House budget committee, Mr. Ryan has resisted pressure from some of his party's leadership to compromise wit h Mr. Obama's administration in the interests of a grand bargain that many Tea Party members see as selling out.

And his far-reaching budget plans have attracted Tea Party support for the same reason that they have generated such fierce Democratic opposition: because they would go so far in reshaping the country's long-standing fiscal obligations.

Mr. Obama's campaign released a 90-second video attacking Mr. Ryan on Saturday. The video uses an old clip of the newly-minted vice presidential nominee bragging that “I put out a very comprehensive plan rewriting the health care system, Medicare, Social Security, our entire tax system.”

The Democrats intend that as an attack, but for Tea Party members it is their de facto mission statement.

Three years ago, the Tea Party movement blossomed as a way of protesting Mr. Obama's health care legislation. They followed up with a wave of political victories in the 2010 midterm elections that gave the movement a strong - if not always organized and coherent - voice in the Congress.

Now, Mr. Ryan's place on the national ticket testifies to the staying power of the Tea Party ideology and provides a single person around which the movement can coalesce. When he delivers his remarks at the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this month, Mr. Ryan will be speaking for the Tea Party as much as anyone else.

Tea Party activists are still likely to make some mischief at the convention, just as some of the movement's lawmakers in the House Republican caucus will no doubt find reasons to fault with Mr. Ryan.

But every movement needs someone to help it focus. For the Tea Party, Mr. Ryan appears to be that man.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.