Rep. Paul Ryan, one of the top contenders floated in GOP circles as a potential running mate to Mitt Romney, addressed a sold-out audience Tuesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, telling the friendly audience that he believes Romney will "save this country."
The 42-year-old Wisconsin Republican, who serves as chairman of the House Budget committee, delivered an address titled "A Rendezvous with Reagan's Legacy: Lessons for 2012." In a speech where President Reagan was named at least a dozen times, Ryan contrasted the GOP's proposals to reform entitlements and taxes with President Obama and the Democrats' policies.
Ryan was invited to deliver the address by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, although Mrs. Reagan was unable to attend the speech per her doctor's orders that she stay home and watch the speech from there. Reagan Library executive director John Heubusch said that Mrs. Reagan was in general good health, and those orders stemmed from a fall when she broke multiple ribs about six weeks ago.
It's one of the hottest invitations in politics, and in recent years it has almost become a rite of passage for any politician seeking to make a mark in conservative politics.
During a Q&A session following his address, the moderator wasted no time before he asked Ryan the million-dollar question on everybody's mind: Would Ryan accept an offer from Mitt Romney to join him on the GOP's ticket this fall.
"Next question," Ryan answered to laughter. "You know, that is someone else's decision months away, and you know, that's a question I would have to have with my wife before I have it with all of you. I like what I'm doing, I'm doing what I'm doing. Don't underestimate how important Congress is."
Asked what his sense of Romney is and whether he could be a great president, Ryan praised the presumptive nominee, predicting he will defeat President Obama this fall and Republicans will "save this country."
"He is a very sincere, very smart, very committed man," Ryan said. "What I see in Mitt Romney are the kinds of skills, tools, character attributes that you need in a leader! He makes decisions. He doesn't pander. So what I see is a person who understands the moment our country is facing, and a person who is willing to do what it takes to get out of the path we are on and on to the path to prosperity."
"I think that he is going to beat Barack Obama and I think that we are going to save this country," he added. "And he is actually really funny as well! He has a quick wit, he is a funny guy, has a great sense of humor."
Ryan said that Americans "are uncertain and worried about their future" as unemployment and decreasing wages hamper economic growth, drawing on Reagan's familiar diagnosis of what was wrong with America.
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem," Ryan said. "Government is the problem."
Ryan, the architect of the House GOP's "Path to Prosperity" budget blueprint, blamed President Obama and Democratic Party leaders for increasing government's power, particularly with the president's signature health care law, which he criticized for impressing a welfare culture on America.
"They've promised wonderful things, and consistently delivered awful results. They show no signs of changing course. It is up to us to get America back on track," he said. "Those in power are taking the view that we're all just stuck in our current stations in life, and government's job is to help us cope with it. Whatever you call that, that's not the American Idea."
Ryan drew a parallel between the challenges America faced during the Carter administration and the Obama administration, and said he hoped for a similar reaction from the voters.
"Now, as then, we face not just a failed president, but a failed ideology. We face a pessimistic mood in the nation's capital - a belief that our best days are over and the only thing to do left is manage the nation's decline," he said. "We have the same opportunity today [as 1980] to reject this defeatist attitude and embrace a positive reform agenda capable of kick-starting a new era of prosperity, an American renewal, a comeback."
"I believe boldness and clarity of the kind that Ronald Reagan displayed in 1980 offer us the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition in 2012," he added. "We will not only win the next election - we have a unique opportunity to sweep and remake the political landscape."
This was Ryan's first time speaking at the Reagan Library. Other top VP front-runners, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have also gone to Simi Valley to address the Reagan Foundation in the past year. Rubio probably did himself the biggest favor when he averted disaster and caught Mrs. Reagan when she tripped as the two walked side-by-side.