Total Pageviews

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

From the Magazine: Paul Ryan Can\'t Lose

Paul Ryan Can't Lose

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Paul Ryan at a rally in Fishersville, Va.

On a Monday night in late September, Paul Ryan sat on the edge of a couch in his suite at the Cincinnatian Hotel, his left fist clenched so tightly around the neck of his bottle of Miller Lite that I could see the veins bulging in his hands. It was the end of a long day that began at Ryan's home in Janesville, Wis., where he'd spent the weekend preparing for the vice-presidential debate. Early Monday morning, he flew to the first of two fund-raisers, on top of which he did three local TV interviews and a brief chat on Fox Business Network and also a town-hall meeting, plus a half-hour phone call with Mitt Romney, after which he finally settled in on the couch to watch his Green Bay Packers play the Seattle Seahawks on “Monday Night Football.” A few minutes after kickoff, Ryan's traveling press secretary, Michael Steel, led me into the suite where Ryan was watching the game with his older brother Tobin, his campaign adviser Dan Senor, the Republican National Committee chai rman Reince Priebus and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

A day after the first presidential debate, spirits soared in Fishersville, Va.

“Is this the guy who's writing that hit piece on me?” Ryan said, rising to shake my hand. He's adept at wielding sarcasm in a way that can both disarm and manipulate - signaling a likable, faux-fatalistic awareness of How the Game Is Played. At 42, Ryan looks even younger and more angular in person than he does on television. He says he was teased as a child for looking like Eddie Munster, because of his black widow's peak, and in the course of reporting this article, I also heard people liken him to Greg Brady; Will Schuester, the music-club director in “Glee”; Kyle MacLachlan, who played Special Agent Dale Cooper on “Twin Peaks”; a bat; an owl; an eagle; and Boner, from “Growing Pains.”

“Get yourself some ribs,” Ryan said after shaking my hand. Everyone had plates balanced on their laps filled with ribs and chicken and coleslaw from a Cincinnati barbecue joint that Ryan frequented in his college days at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The game on TV was the infamous contest - the crime, Ryan called it - that effectively forced a settlement of the referees' lockout, after Seattle won on a last-second touchdown pass that the replacement officials should have ruled an interception or offensive pass interference. At a rally the next morning, Ryan would parallel the incompetence of the replacement refs to President Obama's handling of the economy. But the calamity unfolding now involved the Packers offensive line being devoured by the Seattle pass rush, which was on its way to sacking quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half. “And we drafted all these linemen too,” Ryan said.

Ryan tries to plan his schedule around Packers games and also owns shares in the team, the only nonprofit, community-held professional sports franchise in the United States. “I am an owner,” he said proudly. When I made a crack about how that would make him another of Mitt Romney's rich N.F.L.-owner pals - a reference to Romney's ill-fated attempt in March to score Everyman points by asserting his friendship with a couple of the league's chieftains - Ryan did not seem to know what I was talking about, or pretended not to.

Across from the couch where Ryan was sitting, Portman kept urging me to “get some sauce” for my ribs, motioning to a glass bowl next to the television. Portman, a former congressman and White House budget director, was a top runner-up to Ryan in the vice-presidential sweepstakes. One mark against the wealthy senator was that he might be perceived as too much of a Grey Poupon Republican in the stiff mold of Romney, an image Ryan helps to counter with his deer-hunting, football-loving, Rage Against the Machine-listening ways. As Seattle's quarterback unleashed a long pass from midfield - and as Portman looked up suggestively at me and said, again, “It's all about the sauce” - the Ryan brothers let out a simultaneous moan as the Seahawks went up 7-0. Ryan swigged from his beer and sniffled and made the first of several mentions of the bad head cold he was fighting. “I should not be drinking,” he said. “But, c'mon, it's ribs, it's football, so I gotta have a beer.† He then coughed a couple of times and announced that he would be watching the second half in bed.

Mark Leibovich is the magazine's chief national correspondent. He last wrote about searching for inspiration in the 2012 campaign.

Editor: Joel Lovell

A version of this article appeared in print on October 21, 2012, on page MM27 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Paul Ryan Can't Lose U Y S.