CINCINNATI — Rep. Paul Ryan may have largely disappeared from the national spotlight down the campaign homestretch, ceding attention to Mitt Romney. But if the Republican ticket prevails, Ryan plans to come back roaring, establishing an activist vice presidency that he said would look like Dick Cheney’s under President George W. Bush.
Ryan would dedicate most evenings to dinners with senators and House members of both parties, aides said, as he steps into the role Romney promised: architect of a Romney administration’s drive to enact a budget-shrinking government and overhauling programs like Medicare.
On a grinding schedule in the election’s final hours, rushing to as many as five states in a day, Ryan avoids specifics in his speeches about his duties if elected. Behind the scenes, he speaks at least weekly to the office of Mike Leavitt, the former Utah governor who leads the Romney campaign’s transition team.
The prospect of a deeply engaged vice president was described in interviews with campaign aides, close House colleagues and the few times Ryan has discussed his potential future job. Asked by a reporter last month if he expected the kind of broad responsibility for the economy that Cheney held for national security — as an aide suggested — Ryan said, “I do.”
“A large reason he was chosen was to help Romney govern,” an adviser to the campaign said. “Paul’s going to focus on being a partner.”
Democrats in the Bush years criticized Cheney for usurping for himself a kind of co-presidency.
Ryan and Romney seem to have an effective partnership on the trail; the younger man has been deferential to a fault since he was tapped for the ticket, modifying long-held positions to conform with Romney’s. That said, Ryan has made clear that he would not be relegated only to attending funerals.
Before Ryan accepted the nomination, aides said, he had extensive conversations about his position with Romney, who assured him he would play a guiding role on fiscal and economic matters. Already seen as an intellectual leader of the Republican Party because of his sweeping House budget proposals, Ryan would wield the clout that comes from being recognized as the party’s most likely next in line for the presidency, prominent Republicans said.
“My guess is Paul will be an extraordinarily consequential vice president,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of the Republican House leadership, who was a visitor to the Ryan family box during the Republican convention in August. “He’s going to play an important role in outlining, shaping and passing the Romney agenda from the day he walks in the door.”
“He becomes emissary-in-chief to the Hill,” Cole continued, “especially to House Republicans, who are likely to become the tip of the spear in terms of anything Romney wants to do.”
Whether Ryan would be a wrangler of House conservatives in support of a White House seeking to reach across the aisle, or an agent of the tea party who keeps Romney from deviating from the true path, is a subject of much debate.
Romney has promised over the past month to bridge the partisan chasm in Washington, as he has modulated his talk in an appeal to swing voters.
“When I am elected,” he said Friday in Wisconsin, in a speech billed as a closing argument, “I will endeavor to find those good men and women on both sides of the aisle who care more about the country than about the politics.”
Aides to Ryan said that when he was selected he received congratulatory phone calls from Cheney and Dan Quayle, but that they did not offer him counsel on how to define a role as vice president.