WASHINGTON—Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan unleashed a full-throated onslaught on President Barack Obama’s policies Friday, warning a gathering of conservative evangelicals that President Obama’s big government push is creating a “country where everything is free but us.”
Delivering some of his harshest criticisms since being tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Ryan appeared before social conservatives at the annual Values Voter Summit hosted by the Family Research Council in the nation’s capital. But the congressman from Wisconsin did not begin his verbal assault by tackling social issues. Instead, he warmed up the crowd with a critique of the Obama administration’s response to this week’s attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership,” Ryan said. “In the days ahead, and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose.”
He moved from foreign policy to the economy, slamming Obama for dividing the nation with the rhetoric of class warfare.
“He looks to government as the great benefactor in every life,” Ryan said. “He treats private enterprise as little more than a revenue source for government. He views government as the redistributor and allocator of opportunity.”
Ryan did not ignore the social issues that had drawn the crowd to the Omni Shoreham Hotel. He criticized Obama for threatening religious liberties by requiring Catholic employers to cover birth control, including abortifacients, under the new healthcare law.
“Never mind your own conscience, they were basically told, and from now on, you’re going to do things the government’s way,” he said.
And Ryan accused Obama of pandering to the most extreme elements of the Democratic Party by pushing for abortion at any time, under any circumstance, and at taxpayer expense. He called the president a “politician who has never once lifted a hand to defend the most helpless and innocent of all human beings, the child waiting to be born.”
The vigorous speech had some in the audience hoping it was a sign that the Romney campaign had taken Ryan’s gloves off for the final 55 days of the presidential campaign.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said the selection of Ryan last month brought much-needed enthusiasm to conservative voters for the Republican ticket.
“Social values are part of his DNA,” Fischer said of Ryan. “They are part of the wallpaper of his soul.”
But Fisher said Ryan has sounded like he had been muzzled by the Romney campaign in recent appearances leading up to Friday’s speech. Conservatives are hoping Ryan will talk more openly about social issues and entitlement reform in the coming weeks.
“This is the demographic [Romney] has to count on to win this election,” Fisher argued, pointing at the crowd that seemed energized as it filed out of the ballroom after Ryan’s speech.
That audience roared at Ryan’s introduction, but they seemed to give mostly tepid response whenever Ryan mentioned Gov. Romney’s name during the address.
This is the group Romney struggled to win over during the Republican primaries, as most “values voters” threw their support behind former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Ryan remains the best surrogate for getting that group to not only vote but also to campaign for the GOP ticket. For now, Fisher said he believes the anti-Obama mood here still outweighs the pro-Romney sentiment.
Romney, who has spoken at the Values Voter Summit in the past, did not appear in person for this year’s event. But he did deliver a surprise video message to those in attendance. In the brief video, the former Massachusetts governor pledged to protect the sanctity of life as well as defend traditional marriage and the free expression of religious faith. Romney also mentioned a survey about families and poverty Sen. Santorum had brought to his attention.
“This election will make the difference for America,” Romney said in the video.
The challenge Romney faces was highlighted by a new poll released Friday by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News that found a third of self-identified evangelical voters in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia say they are supporting Obama.
A steady stream of speakers on Friday pleaded with attendees to support the Republican ticket.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that to get a president and a Senate that promotes traditional values, conservatives here must “take our message back home to the places and communities in which you live, which you work, which you worship.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told the crowd, “Democracy is not a spectator sport. You need to get out of your comfort zone.”
Perhaps taking this theme to heart, attendees did take action when demonstrators interrupted Ryan’s remarks.
“Corporations are not people! What are you going to do about money in politics?” the protestors shouted before security dragged them away.
The audience soon overwhelmed the protests with cheers of their own: “USA! USA!”
“Thank you so much,” Ryan responded in appreciation to his crowd of defenders. “I appreciate your support.”
Ryan and Romney are hoping these self-proclaimed values voters will be equally assertive in their spheres of influence back home.