Paul Ryan's RNC Speech The Biggest Of His Career

Tonight is Paul Ryan's night. The Vice Presidential nominee will address the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Mara Liasson joins Audie Cornish to talk about the candidate, his politics and policies.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Today, Mitt Romney and President Obama both hit the campaign trail. The president spoke at a rally at the University of Virginia. He appealed to young people and sharpened his attacks on Romney.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Just yesterday, my opponent called my position on fuel efficiency standards extreme.

I mean, I - I don't know. It doesn't seem extreme to me to want to have more fuel-efficient cars. Maybe the steam engine is more his speed. Maybe...

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Mitt Romney attacked the president's foreign policy in a speech to the American Legion Convention in Indianapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: For the past four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish. In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it's not earned, insult where it's not deserved, and apology where it's not due.

CORNISH: Today, at the Republican convention in Tampa, Paul Ryan will take his turn in the spotlight. He'll have the national stage to introduce himself and make the case for the Romney-Ryan ticket.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now from Tampa to preview the vice presidential nominee's speech. And, Mara, how would you describe the expectations for Paul Ryan at this point?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I think they're very high. He's really the idea man behind the ticket. He supplied the vision thing for the Republican ticket. He's also a conservative hero, and he really generates more excitement than Romney does. The delegates here really love him. But he's never given a big set speech like this, and we'll see how he does tonight.

CORNISH: So what does he have to accomplish?

LIASSON: I think he has to tell his story. He has to come across as a reasonable guy. He has to rebut the Obama campaign's attacks on his Medicare plan. He has to convince people that he doesn't want to throw Grandma off the cliff. A lot of Republicans and many Democrats say he can probably do this because his demeanor is so pleasant and so reasonable. They really do see him as the heir to Jack Kemp, that he can sell the small government libertarian conservatism with a smile.

He also can be counted on to play the role he's played before, which is to be a very capable explainer of his own economic policies and to deliver an effective attack on the president's health care and economic plans.

CORNISH: And so much of the buzz this week has been about the next generation of Republican leaders. People talking about Ryan, of course, but also people like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and last night's keynote speaker New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. What do you make of this list?

LIASSON: Well, the jockeying for the next time, whether it's four or eight years from now, is a subtext at every political convention. I think it's more intense here in Tampa because Romney is seen as a transitional figure. There is no such thing as Romneyism. He's much more moderate, less ideological. He's a country club Republican. He really represents the past of the party.

The future is the kind of Tea Party, more ideological conservatism of Ryan and Rubio and Christie. And the bench of young conservatives who are all thinking about running next time is very deep, very talented. They have a clear agenda of aggressively shrinking government, taking on the public sector unions, restructuring entitlement programs, privatizing them, turning them into more means-tested, welfare-style programs than the big expensive middle-class entitlements they are today.

So they have a clear agenda as compared to Romney. And they also are just more exciting politicians.

CORNISH: Now, I mentioned New Jersey Governor Chris Christie earlier. And there's been some talk today about his speech and reaction from the Romney camp. What happened there?

LIASSON: Well, I think Chris Christie left a lot of himself in the greenroom. I think a lot of people here expected the trademark Christie humor and the big, bombastic riveting attacks, eviscerating attacks. They didn't really get it. He didn't use much humor. He also - and this was his kind of signal transgression - he waited more than 15 minutes, which is a very long time to mention Mitt Romney's name. And then he only mentioned it seven times.

So I think the keynote address is always a difficult balancing act. You're trying to lay the groundwork for your own future plans, but you really are selling the ticket. And I think there was a sense here that he just didn't do enough of that last night.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson from Tampa. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Audie.

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