For wary Tea Party, Paul Ryan could make Mitt Romney easier to swallow

Paul Ryan
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

For Tea Party activists uninspired by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the choice of fiscally conservative Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate might allow them to vote in November without holding their noses.

Hours after Romney’s announcement on Saturday, Tea Partiers’ reactions ranged from “Wow!” to “a step up from Romney” to “this doesn’t change a thing for me” – what one would expect from a notoriously fragmented coalition bound by a desire for smaller government.

Many hailed the selection of as a sign of fiscally conservative movement’s growing influence on the Republican Party platform. Others said it will not eradicate the enthusiasm deficit among conservatives that has dogged the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign.

“This absolutely brings excitement to the ticket,” said Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, who said she her reaction was “Wow!” when she heard the news. “This gives us something to vote for rather than voting against (incumbent Democratic U.S. President Barack) Obama.”

The main reason for that excitement is, as Dooley puts it, that Ryan has “bold ideas for true reform.”

The blend of tax and spending cuts that the congressman and chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee has laid out in what has been called the “Ryan plan” broadly reflects the Tea Party movement’s core tenets of fiscal responsibility and limited government.

Although Democrats have lambasted the “Ryan plan” as an extreme measure that would gut Medicaid and Social Security for the elderly, some fiscal conservatives deem it too timid.

The conservative Club for Growth, for instance, described Ryan’s selection as a “message that Governor Romney is interested in bold reforms to save America from fiscal collapse.”

Yet in March the group described the Ryan plan as a disappointment because it would take too long to reduce the U.S. deficit.

Fiscal conservatives want more drastic cuts, sooner, to fix what they say is America’s fiscal mess. But many said on Saturday that Ryan has taken a step in the right direction.

“Ryan has at least thought about the problems and come up with a workable solution,” said Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, which trains Tea Party activists around the country. “He’s a good, articulate spokesman who will assuage the fears of many conservatives that Romney just doesn’t get it.”

‘No one’s excited about Romney’

There was little doubt on Saturday among Tea Party activists that Ryan was the best choice from a field of vice presidential aspirants that included former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Ohio U.S. Senator Rob Portman.

Activists also said the selection of a fiscal conservative like Ryan reflected the continued influence of the Tea Party, whose successes this year against more moderate Republicans have included Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s defeat of six-term U.S. Senator Dick Lugar and the recent U.S. Senate primary win by former state solicitor general Ted Cruz in Texas.

“Ryan is absolutely the best choice for Romney’s running mate,” said Karen Martin, organizer of the Spartanburg Tea Party in South Carolina. “This choice reflects a lot of the issues that have always been important to the Tea Party.”

Some activists predicted Romney could get the kind of boost from the conservative base that Republican presidential nominee John McCain enjoyed in 2008 when he picked Tea Party favorite and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

But there were also plenty of reminders from Tea Party activists that this movement is not monolithic and that many conservatives remain suspicious of Romney. They take issue with his apparently shifting positions on gay marriage and abortion and a healthcare insurance reform he carried out in Massachusetts that inspired President Obama’s national reform.

Many conservatives say they simply do not believe Romney is one of them.

“Ryan is a step up from Romney, but that’s not saying much,” said Tina Dupont of the Tea Party of West Michigan. “It might help him win the election, but no one’s excited about Romney.”

Among the positive messages in online forums and Tea Party Facebook pages on Saturday, there were also plenty of references to Ryan’s less conservative votes. He supported the bank bailout in 2008, which is anathema to conservatives and has been a significant part of campaigns to unseat moderate Republican incumbents.

“Paul Ryan voted for many of the things that led to the creation of the Tea Party,” said Karen Hurd of the Virginia Tea Party Alliance, who said she does not support Romney.

“While the majority of the Tea Party will vote for Romney, I haven’t spent four years fighting Obama to get Obama Lite. This doesn’t change a thing for me.”

But other Tea Party activists who have remained deeply skeptical of Romney and still dislike him said the choice of Ryan would at least make them think again about voting for him in November.

“This might just help me hold my nose and pull a lever for Romney,” said Judd Saul of the Cedar Valley Tea Party in Iowa.

Related:

Republican VP pick Paul Ryan: from young gun to top gun

Paul Ryan gave Romney camp several years of tax returns

Paul Ryan a foreign policy question in a campaign about economy


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