The loudest cheers came the first time Mitt Romney mentioned Paul Ryan’s name.
The crowd outside the Nauticus Museum, with the USS Wisconsin and the Elizabeth River in the background, had stood patiently while U.S. Senate candidate George Allen gave his stump speech and Governor Bob McDonnell spoke about the Republican party’s promise. They greeted Romney with ample applause and cheers when he arrived, accompanied by cinematic fanfare, from the deck of the battleship in gray suit pants, no jacket, and a light blue tie.
But there was a real roar when Romney told the crowd what they already knew: He had chosen Paul Ryan, the wonky seven-term congressman from Wisconsin, to be his running mate. Romney praised Ryan as a “person of great steadiness” and someone who “combines a profound sense of responsibility…with unbounded optimism,” and the supporters listening must have agreed.
The roar might have been louder a few minutes later, had Romney not flubbed his introduction of Ryan. “The next president of the United States,” Romney said of Ryan, and the crowd was momentarily confused.
But they were quick to spot Ryan descending the gangplank from the Wisconsin, with a dark suit and, conspicuously, no tie. All was forgiven as the man Romney had just described as the “intellectual leader of the Republican party” walked onstage. (Romney joined Ryan briefly to fix his mistake—“the next vice president”—and Ryan launched into his speech.)
Flanked by two teleprompter screens, Ryan spoke more slowly and more deliberately than usual. But he soon seemed to gain confidence, feeding off the audience’s energy, and he hit his stride with the sympathetic crowd. There was a point when Ryan seemed to break through and show one of his underrated assets: his ability to sound a genuine conservative populist note. After listing the failures of the Obama administration to produce a strong economy and fix a broken federal government, Ryan paused and looked out into the crowd.
“We can’t afford four more years of this!,” Ryan said, sounding at once angry and frustrated. The audience got the cue, and remained with him for the duration of his address.
Ryan spent little time dwelling on his own story, and he offered due deference to the man on the top of the ticket.
“Governor Romney is the man for this moment,” Ryan said.
Judging by the reception of his first speech as a candidate for vice president, the moment was all Ryan’s.