Week In Politics: Paul Ryan Takes The Stage

Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with NPR's Mara Liasson about the week in politics.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

With the Republican ticket now settled, we have entered the final phase of the campaign for the White House.

MITT ROMNEY: So Paul and I are beginning on a journey that will take us to every corner of America. We're offering a positive, governing agenda that will lead to economic growth, to widespread and shared prosperity and that will improve the lives of our fellow citizens.

(APPLAUSE)

WERTHEIMER: But as Romney and Ryan make their way across the country over the next three months, there are still some questions. And for some answers, we're joined by NPR's Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: The choice of Paul Ryan has a chance to really shake up this race. First of all, how does it affect the Romney campaign going forward?

LIASSON: Well, it is a complete revision of Romney's theory of the race so far. Up until now, he and his campaign have decided it was all about the economy and about President Obama's performance. He very consciously decided it wouldn't be about politics policy and specifics, or even ideology. They were going to focus on the fundamentals to the exclusion of all almost everything else. Anything other than the economy was deemed a shiny object by the Romney campaign. And this pick says that Romney decided that wasn't working well enough.

He's now signaling, with a pick of Paul Ryan, that this is going to be a campaign about the size of government, the deficit, entitlement reform. This is a big reset for Romney who has been disciplined almost to the point of rigidity.

The other interesting thing about this pick is that Mitt Romney, who really campaigned in the primaries as a centrist and pushed back against candidates Gingrich and Rick Perry as being too radical, has been moving to the right ever since. This is usually a complete reversal of how candidates usually travel. They start on the extreme of their party and then move to the center for the general election.

WERTHEIMER: So what will show that to us? What kind of shift in strategy do you expect to see?

LIASSON: Well, they're a couple of things that could happen. First of all, one question is will this put Wisconsin, Paul Ryan's home state, in play. The upper Midwest is really key for Romney if he wants to deny President Obama 270 electoral votes. If he could pick up of Michigan or Wisconsin or Minnesota, he could really change things. Can Ryan do that?

The other big question is Florida, where there are a lot of seniors who've been skeptical about Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare for future seniors; turn it into a voucher program. So, seniors buy insurance on the private market. Romney has now embraced that plan, in addition to the Ryan budget, which slashes spending and cuts taxes for the wealthy. So, we're not going to see how Romney defends those policies.

WERTHEIMER: So presumably, this will also change things for the Obama campaign. What does President Obama do? Is it easier or harder for them?

LIASSON: Well, that's a really good question. We don't know the answer to that yet. This was a bold and risky move by Romney and there are two different interpretations of this among Democrats. The first camp says this is easier, this is a gift; it's a move to the right by Romney, he satisfies the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Tea Party. But he alienates independent centrist voters who are focused on the economy, not a radical reshaping of the federal budget or entitlements.

And in this view, the pick helps Obama get the campaign he wanted. He wanted it to be a choice between two visions, not just a referendum on himself and the economy. The other view is that it makes it harder. Paul Ryan is talking about big problems and he's offering big solutions to them, whether you agree with them or not. And this is something that President Obama and Romney haven't done so far. So the question is does the president have to come up with his own progressive plan to reform entitlements now, also, something more than that then just taxing the rich.

WERTHEIMER: So the Obama campaign changes their strategy as well?

LIASSON: Well, we're going to find out when Obama campaigns in Iowa this week. I think that the campaign will continue to attack Romney for being an out-of-touch rich guy, and also for wanting to dismantle the safety net. And now they have some new ammunition. And I think you could expect to hear some Democratic ads with clips of Romney criticizing Rick Perry's Social Security plan, which he did during the primaries. And that plan is a lot like Paul Ryan's entitlement reform plans.

One thing we can say is this campaign got a heck of a lot more interesting. It now has the potential to be about big ideas, to be more substantive, instead of a kind of content-free fight with a lot of scorched Earth negative commercials.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.

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