The conservative activist’s rap on Barack Obama is that he came from nowhere, that nobody remembers him from his youth, that he’s kept his records secret. You cannot say any of that about Paul Ryan. He arrived in D.C. right after college to work for Jack Kemp’s old think tank, Empower America. He went to the Hill, then ran for the Wisconsin House seat that opened up in 1998 – when he was turning 28 years old.
The young Ryan was one of the GOP’s few new stars from that disappointing election. (Newt Gingrich had bet everything on the Clinton scandals, but voters ended up sending more Democrats to Congress, shrinking the GOP’s majority, sending Gingrich into humiliated retirement.) In late 1998, C-Span gave him the chance to make a national introduction. He was almost shockingly poised.
By February 1999, Republicans were putting their twentysomething freshman out in front of a bill to “stop the raid” on the Social Security trust fund, trying to gain the advantage on a policy that always worked better for Democrats. Sort of the start of a trend.