“When the day finally came, I changed out of my suit, threw on a camouflage hat and shirt, and slipped out the back,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., begins in his new book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea,” which goes on sale today. “It was August 2012, and the press was eager for any indication that Mitt Romney had picked his running mate. Reporters from ABC and NBC camped out in my front yard, trying to figure out if I was missing so they could report that an announcement was coming.”
Just a few hours earlier that morning, August 10, 2012, I followed Ryan in my rental car from Janesville to Oak Creek, Wis., where we would attend a memorial service for the six Sikh victims killed in a shooting in suburban Milwaukee.
Ryan was a passenger in a red pickup truck, driven by his chief of staff and childhood buddy Andy Speth.
All week, I had been tracking the duo as they crisscrossed the Dairy Land amid increasing speculation that Ryan could be picked to become Mitt Romney’s running mate.
After the somber service, Ryan and Speth climbed back into the truck and sped away from Oak Creek High School. But after a mile or so, the duo suddenly pulled off the road into a shopping center.
I parked my car when Ryan approached and asked if I wanted to go inside the Jimmy John’s because “it might be the last opportunity you get to eat for a while.”
The three of us went inside and ordered. None of the patrons or employees seemed to take notice of Ryan.
We were soon back on the road, headed for Ryan’s home in Janesville. I scarfed down half the sandwich I had bought, making sure I didn’t lose sight of the Veep contender.
When we arrived, I quickly jumped out of my rental and recorded Ryan with a digital video camera as he attempted to enter his home. But he was apparently locked out.
Ryan yelled back to me that he had left his keys in Speth’s truck and his wife, Janna, wasn’t home to let him in.
“Don’t you want to show us where you hide a key under the door mat?” I asked Ryan.
“I think I’ve got another way in,” Ryan laughed, before disappearing into his backyard.
That was the last time the press saw him until he appeared the next morning on the deck of the USS Wisconsin alongside Romney.
Beyond the tale of Ryan’s thrilling escape, “The Way Forward” (a Twelve books hardcover and eBook) recounts numerous biographical stories from Ryan’s life: from his father’s private struggle with alcoholism, to his personal rivalry with President Obama over the budget.
But the thrust of “The Way Forward” focuses on Ryan’s pursuit of the American Idea, outlining a comprehensive, conservative agenda where civil society, not government, is “at the center of American life.”
“Instead of growing government, it grows the economy – offering greater opportunity and prosperity for all,” Ryan writes. “Along this path, government provides the necessary support rather than taking on the commanding role.”
Ryan, 44, also dishes about launching his first campaign for Congress and reveals the “abrupt end” of the Romney-Ryan campaign.
“I looked around and saw some tears, but many in the room were simply too stunned to cry,” he notes. “Afterward, Janna and I stayed behind for a while to talk with the Romneys. We didn’t have much to say; we just weren’t ready to say goodbye.”
Two years after Ryan eluded the media and he looks to his own political future, the father of three hints that another presidential campaign could be in the cards.
“Of course, my hope wasn’t that I’d be writing about these ideas; I thought I’d be helping implement them as part of a Romney administration,” Ryan notes. “But it didn’t take long for me to realize that while we may have lost an election, the cause continues.
“The prudent leader is like the captain of a ship,” he adds. “He doesn’t curse the wind; he uses it to reach his destination.”
Although the definitiveness of his 2016 ambitions is left to be learned, Ryan is widely anticipated to sail in January into the chairmanship at the Ways and Means committee, a powerful post where the eight-term Republican could get a running start implementing “The Way Forward.”
“Our elected leaders have to be able to see our destination out there on the horizon and then tack their way to it accordingly,” Ryan notes. “The important thing is where we are going, not the stops we make along the way.”
Ryan launches a nationwide nine-day book tour Wednesday in Philadelphia. He will appear Thursday at the Union League Club of Chicago for a book signing and discussion with Mitt Romney.