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Paul Ryan bolsters US conservative agenda

Paul Ryan will join US presidential candidate Mitt Romney on the campaign trail for the 2012 elections. A budget expert and member of Congress, Ryan is popular among conservative groups in the United States.

Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan, a member of the US House of Representatives for Wisconsin's 1st district, as his vice presidential running mate on Saturday (11.08.2012). The outspoken 42-year-old Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is considered one of the rising stars of the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

The selection suggests the economy will be a main focus of the Romney campaign. Ryan has played a key role in drafting his party's plan to cut spending and reduce the US budget deficit. His conservative economic views are likely to please the influential Tea Party movement, which broadly favors limited government and deficit reduction, and has yet to warm to the more moderate Romney.

More radical than Romney

Christian Lammert, an expert on US politics at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin, said he was surprised at Romney's choice.

"Ryan's views on economic and tax policy are very radical, so I'm not sure if he's a good choice for targeting independent voters, who make up about 40 percent of the base," Lammert told DW. "But at the same time, Ryan might be good for attracting the right-wing Republican voters and mobilizing them."

Many analysts had expected Romney to choose one of the more conventional party members on the VP shortlist, such as former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. At the same time, a number of Republicans had made a concentrated effort in recent days to support the selection of Ryan, urging Romney to take a risk on a younger politician to bring new energy to his campaign.

In favor of social spending cuts

Sarah Palin (AP Photo/The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Robert DeBerry)

Ryan is a more serious choice than Palin was, says policy analyst Christian Lammert

Ryan's selection draws attention to a controversial budget plan he proposed as House Budget Committee chairman. It included cuts in government health programs for the poor and elderly and was sharply criticized by US President Barack Obama and other members of the Democratic Party.

This could alienate many voters, said Lammert, as "according to public opinion polls, the idea of health care reform is increasingly popular in the US." However, he pointed out that support would be gained in other sections of society.

"Ryan is popular among Tea Party supporters, and he will generally attract right-wingers and fiscal conservatives," Lammert added.

Ryan has openly criticized Europe's handling of the debt crisis and its austerity measures, but this, according to Lammert, "reflects the mainstream opinion and works well with the voters in the US."

Criticism over lack of experience

Commentators such as Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" have said that Paul Ryan is a Washington insider with no significant private-sector experience, which Romney frequently touts as essential for governing. Lammert, however, said he does not expect this to be a hurdle for the Republican ticket, since business-savvy Romney complements his running mate. In fact, Lammert said he thinks the two can be successful if they work "in tandem" and concentrate on their individual strengths.

"This pick allows Romney to focus more on the independent and moderate voters," Lammert explained. "Ryan can in the meantime concentrate on the right-wing base."

Foreign policy and Europe

Ryan also possesses little experience in the area of foreign policy, an issue that dogged the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. She, too, was seen as a far more conservative politician than her presidential running mate, John McCain. But Lammert said there were otherwise few similarities between Ryan and Palin.

"Ryan is more professional and less radical than Palin," said Lammert. "He is more in the game, while Palin was on the fringe of political debate. It looks like the Republicans have learned from their experience four years ago."

Ryan's statements on the US's role in the world contrast with Palin's perceived lack of foreign-policy knowledge. In a number of interviews with US media, Ryan has vigorously rejected calls for American isolationism. Speaking to the Alexander Hamilton Society, he said "a world without US leadership will be a more chaotic place."

Lammert said he does not expect Ryan's activist foreign policy vision to alter the "well-established" bonds between the US and Europe: "Even when there have been big changes in foreign policy, this has had little effect on trans-Atlantic relations," Lammert said.

He also added that the vice presidential selection is not the most crucial part of a US electoral campaign, so Ryan's shortcomings may not necessarily have a significantly negative effect.

"But I don't think they will be a boost, either," he added.

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