Rubio, Ryan, Portman, Christie: Who Will Be VP?

Ken Rudin, Political Junkie columnist, NPR
Paul Mulshine, political columnist, Newark Star-Ledger
Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP presidential candidate, continues to try out potential running mates, though most deny any interest in the job. Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rob Portman, Gov. Chris Christie and others have all made high-profile comments in recent days.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan. President Obama, just back from Afghanistan, kicks off his re-election campaign this weekend. Sarah Palin snubs Indiana Senator Dick Lugar. And Mitt Romney says of course he'd have ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. It's Wednesday and time for a...

MITT ROMNEY: ...even Jimmy Carter...

LUDDEN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

LUDDEN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics, and one day he's going to scream like that, too, right?

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: I do scream like that.

LUDDEN: Although he has been dead for a year, Osama bin Laden re-enters the political conversation. Primary races are heating up in Wisconsin, where it's recall season, and the salacious John Edwards trial continues in North Carolina. The veep-stakes discussion rolls on, and in a few moments we'll go to New Jersey and Wisconsin as we continue to assess the race for the Republican vice presidential nomination. But first, Ken Rudin, welcome back.

RUDIN: Hi Jennifer, sorry that your career probably ends with this show today, but it's time for a trivia question.

LUDDEN: No, it's the highlight.

RUDIN: The highlight, that's what I mean to say. Actually, the script said - oh, it says highlight. The trivia question is: Newt Gingrich, of course, will officially drop out of the race today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, coincidentally after this show is over. I think he was trying to avoid us. But anyway, he's won a total of two primaries. So here's a ridiculous trivia question: Who was the last major-party presidential candidate to win his party's nomination despite winning only two primaries?

LUDDEN: And you'll have to explain to us how that was possible.

RUDIN: Okay.

LUDDEN: If you think you know the answer, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address, talk@npr.org. The first two correct answers win a fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise to send a digital image of yourself wearing it for our wall of shame.

RUDIN: I think the first correct answer, not the first two.

LUDDEN: It says two in the script. Got to get another T-shirt. OK, Ken, so speaking of Newt Gingrich, it appears this is his last day as a candidate.

RUDIN: Yes, the farewell tour, which started about a week ago when he said he would drop out of the race, has continued all week long. Arlington, Virginia, a speech today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, where the word is he will not officially endorse Mitt Romney - not that it matters, of course, but he will embrace him. And as Newt Gingrich has said from the beginning, his goal is to defeat President Obama and elect Republicans to Congress, and that's what he wants to do.

So it won't be the kind of bow on the - are there bows on the cake? I don't think there's bows on the cake. No.

LUDDEN: Mixed metaphor...

RUDIN: Exactly. But...

LUDDEN: Icing.

RUDIN: Oh, bows on the icing, right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But Newt Gingrich will be out.

LUDDEN: Do we think Mitt Romney is going to want Gingrich up there with him out on the campaign trail?

RUDIN: Well, certainly, you know, he excites the base, and for the longest time, when Newt Gingrich was not only the so-called frontrunner, and it's kind of amazing to think of that of that - I mean, in December Newt Gingrich was - and many people thought that he would actually be the nominee - Gingrich was predicting he would be the nominee.

But if nothing else, he does excite a crowd, he does excite the base, and there are some debates there where he was probably the most interesting candidate for a while in talking about what's at stake in November. So sure, he wants him there. I don't know what kind of a role he's going to get at the convention in Tampa.

Once upon a time, Newt Gingrich was talking about lasting all the way until the convention. Now he lasts all the way until today.

LUDDEN: And another candidate who has suspended his campaign, Rick Santorum, meets with Romney on Friday.

RUDIN: Right, and again, not sure about an endorsement either. But look, I think it probably is just as well for both Gingrich and Santorum not to have an early endorsement because there is still a lot of supporters for both candidates who are still not won over by Mitt Romney. But of course Santorum and Gingrich want to remain viable in conservative circles.

LUDDEN: All right. Now, here's some news that may surprise some who have been paying attention: President Obama will officially begin his campaign, presidential campaign, this coming Saturday.

RUDIN: So it starts now - because there's nothing until now, campaigning(ph) .

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Well, so he's just back from Afghanistan, where there was quite a drama-laden secret meeting with U.S. troops in the middle - under the cover of night on - and this is - comes after Osama bin Laden has already re-entered the debate, as the administration has taken to touting his death, that Obama ordered. And on Monday we heard Mitt Romney tell "CBS This Morning" that he thought the president was politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")

ROMNEY: And then of course I would have taken exactly the same decision, and the idea to try to politicize this and to say, oh, I, President Obama, would have done it one way, Mitt Romney would have done it another, is really disappointing.

LUDDEN: Later that day, at a news conference with the Japanese prime minister, President Obama pushed back at that assertion.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I said that I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they'd do something else, then I'd go ahead and let them explain it.

RUDIN: Well, several things. First of all, I mean a lot of us, a lot of us are shocked, with quotes around the word shocked, that President Obama is playing politics in Afghanistan, although he did win the caucuses in Kabul yesterday, which I thought was pretty exciting.

No, the thing is, is that everything is political. Everything is about politics. And what?

LUDDEN: Well, but he's not only touting that he killed - ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. The administration has put out ads questioning whether Mitt Romney would have made the same thing.

RUDIN: Well, because Mitt Romney had said some things a while ago. He said: Do we want to be spending billions of dollars just to track down one man and kill one man? So he has said this earlier. So there is a tit-for-tat for that. And look, this - the biggest frustration for Mitt Romney is that this is one of the perks a president has, that he can be presidential.

Of course it's political too, but he can go there, talk to the troops, talk to the folks back in the United States live from Afghanistan and say, look, I got the job done. By the way, not only was it the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but it was also the nine-year anniversary of George Bush's mission accomplished speech that was widely reviled and widely discredited regarding the war in Iraq.

LUDDEN: OK. Let's move across the country, over to Indiana.

RUDIN: Well, next Tuesday there are several primaries. There's Indiana. There's Nebraska. There's West Virginia. But the primary to watch is the one in Indiana, when Richard Lugar, he's 80 years old, he's been in the Senate since 1977, he along with Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republicans in the Senate, and he's never had a problem.

But the problem he has now is, one, he is - in the conservative point of view, he is President Obama's favorite Republican in the Senate. He is not sufficiently conservative, and Tea Party groups and various conservative groups, Club for Growth, have endorsed Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, who's been elected statewide two times.

But Lugar's problems have been confounded, compounded by other things, like the fact is he doesn't have a residence in Indiana. When he goes home to Indiana, he registers - he stays at a hotel in Indianapolis, where he was once mayor in the 1960s.

LUDDEN: Not good optics there.

RUDIN: No, so I mean, so the thing is he just - a lot of people feel he's out of touch, and he's not a partisan. In a time when a lot of Republicans - and Democrats too - want their candidates to be angry, Dick Lugar's not an angry guy, and that may hurt him. And I think he may very well lose the primary on Tuesday.

LUDDEN: All right, well, let's see if we have any answers to your trivia question. Let's check in with...

RUDIN: Do we want to repeat the question?

LUDDEN: Please do, ahead...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Sorry...

RUDIN: OK, it's the - I have no idea what the question is. The question was: Newt Gingrich, of course, has won only two primaries, but there is somebody, who was the last person in presidential - major party presidential politics who won only two primaries and yet won his party's presidential nomination?

LUDDEN: All right, let's see if Jason in Huntersville, North Carolina, knows. Hi there, Jason.

JASON: I was going to say Teddy Roosevelt, but I just listened to him repeat the question, and now I'm doubting that. But I'll go with it anyway.

RUDIN: Well, it's not Teddy Roosevelt. I'm sorry.

LUDDEN: But thanks so much, Jason.

RUDIN: You don't get a T-shirt, but you do get a big stick.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Thank you, OK. How about hi there, Peter, in Brownsville, California.

PETER: Hi, Peter in Roseville, California.

LUDDEN: I'm sorry, go right ahead. What's your guess?

PETER: I'll take a wild guess at Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

RUDIN: Well, that's a good guess, and as a matter of fact, Hubert Humphrey did not win any primaries because he got in the race after all the filing deadlines were over. So not only did he not win two primaries, he won none and yet won the nomination, even though he won the nomination...

LUDDEN: Well, that would have been a good trivia question.

RUDIN: It would have, but that's not the question this week.

LUDDEN: All right, thank you, Peter.

RUDIN: Thanks, Peter.

LUDDEN: OK, Jim in Sykesville, Maryland.

JIM: Hi, I'll say Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

RUDIN: No, actually, Dwight Eisenhower won - I mean, there weren't many primaries back in 1952, but Dwight Eisenhower won many of the primaries. Taft did win some of them, his opponent, Robert Taft. But Ike won a lot of them, far more than his wife, Tina Turner.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: No, Eisenhower won many primaries in '52, more than two.

LUDDEN: All right, Jim, thank you so much for that.

JIM: We don't have a caller with the answer, but we did get an email from Ed in Tallahassee, correctly guessing Thomas Dewey, 1948.

RUDIN: Wait, wait, I didn't tell you the correct answer yet. But that is the correct answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: I'm sorry, I don't normally do this.

RUDIN: No, no. But anyway, Thomas Dewey, there weren't many primaries in 1948. He only won New Jersey and Oregon, but he won the Republican presidential nomination.

LUDDEN: OK, so how was that possible?

RUDIN: How'd you know the answer?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Notes, it's all in the notes. So how was that possible that you could only win two and get the nomination?

RUDIN: Well, back then primaries weren't that important. Really, the nominations were decided at the conventions for the most part. New Hampshire didn't really become important until 1952, and it wasn't until 1972 with McGovern that the primaries really took over. But in '48 it was really party bosses, party leaders, whatever you want to call them. But they made the calls at the conventions.

The delegates, once upon a time the conventions mattered, and the delegates picked Thomas Dewey in 1948, and not so much the primaries.

LUDDEN: All right, looking ahead...

RUDIN: I can't believe you knew the answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: Looking ahead at the political week ahead, Wisconsin's going to be big in the news.

RUDIN: And that's next Tuesday. Now, on June 5th, next month, of course, is the recall - the gubernatorial recall, where they're trying to recall the gubernor(ph) , Scott Walker.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But on Tuesday is a Democratic primary to find out whom Walker will oppose on June 5th, and the top two candidates are Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, who ran against Walker in the 2010 race, was very - lost by a very close margin; and Kathleen Falk, who - the champion of the labor unions, which is spending a lot of money on this, although not nearly as much as Scott Walker...

LUDDEN: Who has raised a lot.

RUDIN: Well, Scott Walker has raised $13.2 million in the last quarter alone, and I think Barrett has maybe $900,000, and Falk has $700,000. But anyway, there are four Democrats. Those are the top two running in next Tuesday's primary to face Walker in June.

LUDDEN: All right, and we'll hear more about Wisconsin coming up when we mull over some of the potential vice presidential picks this week - Paul Ryan and Chris Christie. We're talking with Ken Rudin. It's the Political Junkie, and up next the parade of potential Romney running mates continues. Who do you think should be the VP nominee? Call us at 800-989-8255. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's Wednesday, and political junkie Ken Rudin's here, as always. We'll get to Mitt Romney's parade of potential running mates in a moment. But Ken, was there a ScuttleButton winner last week?

RUDIN: There was, Jennifer Ludden. Yes, there was indeed. The winner was David Lamb of Las Vegas, Nevada, and I had - the buttons were: I'm proud to be an American. There was a Tom Robinson Band button for the band, and George Wallace Stand Up for America button, and when you add them up, you have "American Bandstand" in honor of the late Dick Clark.

LUDDEN: Very good. All right, and you can find the latest ScuttleButton puzzle and Ken's new column at npr.org/junkie. Mitt Romney continues to move into general election mode and at some point will pick a running mate. Last week, we talked about two potential VPs, Senators Marco Rubio and Rob Portman. This week, we'll focus on two others, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Governor Christie spoke to students at a New Jersey high school on Monday and said what so many other possible running mates have said, not interested.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: If Governor Romney called and asked me to sit down and talk with him about it, I'd listen because I think you owe the nominee of your party that level of respect. And who knows what he's going to say? And he might be able to convince me, he's a convincing guy. But I really love this job, I really want to stay in this job, and do I really look like the vice presidential type, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: You know, sitting behind him at the State of the Union, going...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: I don't think that's me. So I think it's unlikely, but if he called me and ask me, I'd certainly talk to him about it.

LUDDEN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the latest to say he doesn't want the job of vice president. We'd like to hear from Republicans in our audience today, Who should be VP? 800-989-8255. Or drop us an email, talk@npr.org. Paul Mulshine is a political columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger and joins us by phone from his home in Bay Head, New Jersey. Welcome, Paul.

PAUL MULSHINE: Hi, how are you doing?

LUDDEN: So as we heard Governor Christie say, he's not sure he's suited for the role of number two. Do you imagine him in that position?

MULSHINE: I do, of course, because I have a bit of a prejudice in the sense that it would be great fun for us here in Jersey. But I discussed this with Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, and, you know, Christie causes all sorts of matchup problems for the Democrats.

He throws Jersey into play. They have to defend it, which they wouldn't normally have to do. You know, Pennsylvania, the upper Midwest, he's very good in those states. He's a very positive, dynamic speaker, especially on television, unlike Romney, who keeps having to correct himself. So I think he's got a lot of real positives there, and I think he would - I think he's a very strong contender.

LUDDEN: Well, he's been governor since 2009. He beat Jon Corzine. Can you give us a sense of his political history before then? What's his background?

MULSHINE: Well, here's why I think he wants it: In 1994, he ran for the Freeholder Board, that's the county board that runs Morris County when he - where he lives. He was elected and took the oath on, like, January 3rd. By January 24th, he had announced he had accomplished all he could possibly do as a freeholder and wanted to run for State Assembly, which was - showed amazing ambition.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MULSHINE: I've never seen anything quite like that. He really likes the spotlight, and he doesn't like - you know, he doesn't like dealing with people like me because when he deals with the state press corps, we ask him all these tough questions. You know, he gets up there, and we ask these detailed questions about bonding and so forth, and housing issues and things that he really has to watch out, you know.

When he goes on - before the national press, they treat him like a god, and he really loves - I mean, he's - you know, he's just huge. They call him a rock star nationally. He doesn't get anywhere near that respect, you know, locally. So...

LUDDEN: But he does. He's become a bit of a YouTube sensation with, you know, some of these clashes that he has at local town hall meetings and so forth. Does he like that?

MULSHINE: Right, he - his initial - it's funny, when he took office, he was very sort of muddled and confused for his first couple months, and then my colleague Tom Moran at the Ledger asked him an innocuous question at a press conference about his confrontational style. And Christie went on a rant that was hilarious.

And when it went on YouTube, it was his first giant YouTube hit, and all of a sudden he found out - and we hadn't - by the way, none of us knew he was good on television because New Jersey does not have television, you know.

LUDDEN: It's New York, right.

MULSHINE: He turned out to just be great on television. And then they started doing these YouTube clips, and he started playing it up, and now he's got a TV crew everywhere, and he's just phenomenal at it, and that's, you know, that's what matters in a national race.

LUDDEN: OK.

RUDIN: Paul, here's a question, though. Given the fact that Governor Christie is so combative and controversial, he likes - he loves picking on the unions and the Democrats, and that's fine, but if Mitt Romney wants this election to be about Obama and the past four years, would having Christie on the ticket be more about Christie than about Obama?

MULSHINE: I don't think so because Christie is very good at being an attack dog. He's really good at going after people, and I think - you know, and Romney, you know the famous quote about Romney's father, where one of the reporters covering the '68 campaign said he wanted a typewriter button that printed out the words: Romney later explained that what he meant to say was - which of course like father like son. You know, Mitt steps on himself all the time.

Chris is out there and could be a great attack dog and let Mitt Romney hang back and look presidential, you know.

RUDIN: What does he do in New Jersey? Does he help carry the state?

MULSHINE: Oh, he could probably carry the state, and that would - you know, that's what's that, 14 electoral votes now? That's a big difference. That could be a winning margin.

Let's get an opinion here from James in Denver. Hi there, James.

JAMES: Hi, how are you?

LUDDEN: Good.

JAMES: Good. I'm voting Republican, and I think Christie would be a good vice presidential candidate. A lot of my friends don't want to vote for Mitt Romney because he's not seen as being socially conservative, and that's the most important thing for a lot of my friends. So that's what we would be looking for.

RUDIN: Well, can I interrupt here? Paul, let me ask you this question. Is Chris Christie a social conservative?

MULSHINE: He plays one on TV, you know.

JAMES: I think that's right.

MULSHINE: He wasn't going in. His first bid for office, by the way, he came out in favor of an assault weapons ban against a Republican. So on gun issues, he's actually got kind of a weak right-wing record. But he's come across on pro-life and the Catholic vote and so forth, and - by the way, here's a trivia point: I believe if he - if Mitt Romney were to pick him, wouldn't that be the first Republican ticket ever without a WASP on it, you know, there would be no mainline Protestant on a Republican ticket for the first time in history, I think.

RUDIN: Yeah, I don't really know much about trivia, but Jennifer seems to know all the answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MULSHINE: Here's a trivia question: Who was the only Catholic ever on a Republican national ticket?

RUDIN: Bill Miller of New York in '64?

MULSHINE: That's right.

RUDIN: Do I win a T-shirt?

MULSHINE: It's been all these years, you know, and Catholics are the biggest voting, you know, religion by far. So I mean, it looks like that's going to change this year, one way or the other.

LUDDEN: Well, James, thanks for the phone call. Let's go to Vincent now in Haddam, Connecticut.

VINCENT: Morning.

LUDDEN: Good morning, afternoon.

VINCENT: (Unintelligible) Jeb Bush.

LUDDEN: And why?

VINCENT: Marco Rubio is a Cuban, he's not a Mexican. He won't carry the Mexican, the true Hispanic vote. He's also too young, I think, but that's for others to judge. Jeb Bush is still popular in Florida. Florida is an essential state. Christie I think is a good choice, too, but I think he's too much in your face. But I think Jeb Bush takes Florida and because he's popular in Florida, he's also popular elsewhere, and he is relatively socially conservative.

He also takes the Hispanic vote because he speaks Spanish, he's married to an Hispanic, he has Hispanic children.

LUDDEN: All right, well, Vincent, thanks so much. Paul Mulshine, how are Governor Christie's popularity ratings, and any last thoughts on his - what he would bring to a ticket?

MULSHINE: He's at 59 percent in New Jersey, which is very good right now, and I think that's - you know, he's doing very well there. And, you know, the other thing about him and the reason I think he might be chosen is he comes out of the Tom Kaine, Christie Whitman, Bush family. You know, Kaine, Whitman, Bush family were all born within, like, 80 miles of each other in Connecticut and North Jersey, right.

He apprenticed himself to Tom Kaine, the popular governor, when he was in high school, famously went to knock on his door to campaign. He's very in with that wing of the party, the old mainstream party, the real Bushes, not the pseudo-Texan Bushes but the actual Northeastern Bushes, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MULSHINE: And he also appeals to the Tea Party. Tea Party people love him, and he is the most mainstream Republican in American - in America today. So, you know, that's I think why he is so strong as a choice.

LUDDEN: All right, Paul Mulshine is a political columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger and joined us by phone from his home in Bay Head, New Jersey. Thanks so much.

MULSHINE: Thanks for having me.

LUDDEN: A couple of other governors' names are being batted around as a possible VP candidate, Virginia's Bob McDonnell and Nikki Haley from South Carolina. They join a list that includes two senators and one congressman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He appeared on "Face the Nation" in March and, like everyone else, deflected a question of whether or not he is considering joining a Romney ticket as vice president.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: I would consider it, but it's not even something in my mind because it's a decision someone else makes at a later time. It's a bridge I haven't even gotten close to having to cross. So in the meantime, I think it's important to do my job and give the country a choice and try and prevent a debt crisis from taking down our economy.

LUDDEN: Craig Gilbert is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Washington bureau chief and writes "The Wisconsin Voter" column for the paper. And he joins us here in Studio 3A. Welcome.

CRAIG GILBERT: Nice to be with you.

LUDDEN: So do you think Paul Ryan could help Mitt Romney on the ticket?

GILBERT: Well, it will be a really interesting choice, and a risky choice in some respects. He's got real obvious assets. I mean, he's great on television. He's so versed in policy. He's very conservative, but he's good at talking to audiences outside the conservative base. But he does really sharpen, I think, intentionally so the philosophical contrast between the party. His budget is such a, you know, stark statement about the role of the federal government and our priorities that it would really, really underline some real sharp divides in a way that, I think, would tell us something about where Romney wants to go in this election.

LUDDEN: Well, speaking of sharp divides, I mean, his budget has become, I guess, like everything these days but extremely polarizing. And I mean, even the Catholic Church came out and criticized it, which Paul Ryan then had - came back and tried to defend on Catholic principles. The Catholic Church saying it would, you know, hurt too much aid for the poor.

GILBERT: Right. So you're getting a guy with real strong personal skills as a politician but someone who's a real lightning rod on policy. I mean, the last two - the two budgets that he'd drafted that the House - he persuaded House Republicans to pass are really the boldest, you know, include whatever adjective you want, statement about conservative - about a conservative domestic agenda on the part of the Republican Party in an awfully long time, if not ever.

LUDDEN: He looks so young. I guess, he's 42. But he's actually been in Congress since 1999. Can you give us a sense of his political background? What were his biggest achievements there?

GILBERT: Well, he came out of college a policy wonk. He was writing speeches for Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett. He came out of that world - think tanks - interested in economics, you know, was an avid reader of Ayn Rand. There's been a lot written about that lately. And then at a very young age, when he really wasn't known to the political world in Wisconsin, ran for Congress for Les Aspin's old seat, actually, and won in a fairly competitive district.

So he's kind of unique among high-ranking Republicans in the House, in that he's not, you know, he's coming from a purple to blue state and a state - and a district that has unions. It has industrial cities in it, as well as conservative rural areas. But I think that explains some of his appeal and some of his success in terms of dealing with an eclectic constituency.

RUDIN: You know that many Republicans may not want to quote Newt Gingrich, but, you know, Democrats will when Newt Gingrich called the first budget a right-wing social engineering. That's the kind of thing that you know the Obama campaign will throw at the Republicans time and time again.

GILBERT: Yeah. And actually what was really stunning about that episode is other have remarked is that it was so toxic to Newt Gingrich to have taken on Paul Ryan that way. I mean, it was a real statement about the stature that Paul Ryan has acquired in the Republican Party, in the conservative movement and particularly in the conservative media, which really adores him. So, yeah, I mean, his budget, when you look at it, you know, we're talking about essentially privatizing Medicare.

We're talking about, you know, huge cuts in Medicaid and ending kind of the entitlement status of Medicaid, lowering tax rates and holding defense harmless. And so, really taking a huge whack out of federal programs that go toward lower-income Americans. And that's, you know, again, that's - that would be a pretty new direction for the federal government to take.

LUDDEN: Let me just note that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. You mentioned how much he's been in the media. I think someone tallied up since January Paul Ryan has been on cable news 55 times, and Fox News specifically 17 times. So a good asset in that sense if you wanted someone who's comfortable in the spotlight, I guess.

GILBERT: Yeah. I mean, in fact, we tallied that up the other day, and, you know, he is on TV all the time. And he's very comfortable. He's very comfortable at press conferences. He's very comfortable talking about his area of policy expertise, which is economics and budgets. So that's really been, I think, the - his path to power and influence in Washington has been this sort of master his subject and to have a really strong sense of direction and sense of agenda. And it really has been his agenda. Again, like I said, he wants to draw the starkest possible contrast between the two parties.

I think one of the reasons he pushed his budgets was with the idea of having what he calls a defining election, a choice election, a potential mandate election for his party. So if Romney is interested in fuzzing any of those edges and playing more of, you know, a middle game, then Paul Ryan I don't think is the candidate for him because he's trying to sharpen those contrasts.

LUDDEN: And let's get a caller on the line here. Bob in Las Vegas. Hi, there.

BOB: Hi. I will be voting Republican, and I was just thinking that our governor here, Brian Sandoval, would be a great choice. He's from the West, wicked smart, pretty and, you know, hasn't done a lot to screw up, hasn't been in office that long, and so would be a good number two. You don't want somebody to outshine the president but somebody who could one day be president.

LUDDEN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: That's a great attribute. He hasn't screwed up yet, and he's also Latino. And, of course, given the Republican Party's weaknesses with Hispanic voters, perhaps that might be something as well to put him over. I'm more interested in the Paul Ryan thing because I think as many Republicans say, look, don't rock the boat, don't put your budget out as the target. There are some Republicans who say, look, I'd rather lose with a defining election, and here's what we stand for than just fuzzy up the issues.

GILBERT: Yeah. And there are probably some Republicans who also think that they can win that way too. I mean, there's - so there's another point of view. It may not be the majority view within the party. I'm not sure. But there are some Republicans that think that let's have, you know - Romney has already embraced the budget, right? So let's have its best advocate out there on the ticket talking about it. And, you know, that's certainly Ryan's point of view, is that this is not a losing message for his party. But that's not a universal view within his party.

LUDDEN: There's just a few seconds left, but, Craig Gilbert, big topic in Wisconsin is the upcoming primary for who's going to challenge the governor there. Is Paul Ryan connected - he's speaking out on this issue?

GILBERT: No. He's been very coy from - he doesn't really want to get tangled up in all this with everything else that he's doing in Washington. He's kind of avoided saying a whole lot. He's very supportive in a general way of Scott Walker, but he doesn't - he's not out there talking about collective bargaining. That's for sure.

LUDDEN: All right. Craig Gilbert, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Washington bureau chief, joined us here in Studio 3A. Thank you so much.

GILBERT: It's a pleasure.

LUDDEN: Coming up, don't try to be great, marry someone smarter than you - 10 things you won't hear in a commencement speech but probably should. What do you wish you've been told at graduation? Call us at 800-989-8255, or drop us an email: talk@npr.org. Ken Rudin, the political junkie, thank you so much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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