By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
JANESVILLE — You get to know a guy pretty well when he’s your bunkmate.
There aren’t many people in this world who know Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan better than big brother Tobin Ryan.
Tobin, five years Paul’s senior, said he knew early on his kid brother was something special, even if it was hard to shut up the young politician in waiting during those bunk-bed nights long ago.
“When you have Paul Ryan as a little brother sharing a bedroom … I couldn’t get that guy to quiet down,” Tobin told Wisconsin Reporter Thursday afternoon. “He would talk and talk and ask questions and I’d say, ‘Paul, go to sleep. Save it for the morning.’”
That inquisitive, albeit loquacious, kid now stands on the threshold of history, with the possibility of becoming the first vice president from the Badger State. And his big brother couldn’t sound prouder.
Tobin, 47, joined his wife, extended family and some 300 supporters to watch Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, go head-to-head with Vice President Joe Biden in this campaign season’s only VP candidate debate.
What U.S. voters saw in the spirited debate between the nearly 70-year-old Biden, Democrat Barack Obama‘s vice president, and the 42-year-old Paul Ryan, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney‘s running mate, was a lot of talking — and interrupting — in a defining moment from two accomplished men with two very different visions of how to lead America.
Pundits called the contest a draw.
The vigor of the vice presidential debate would come as no surprise to Tobin Ryan, who said his now very famous brother has been preparing for this monumental moment, in many ways, since his early childhood.
Tobin said his younger brother, the baby of the Ryan family of four children, was a serious, studious, kid whose maturity and intellectual curiosity delighted his parents.
Paul Ryan had to grow up fast, faster than most, Tobin said.
When he was 16, Paul Ryan found his father dead in bed.
“Paul was first to find our dad,” Tobin said. “He tried to resuscitate him, but he had been dead most of the night. I got home an hour or two later. The ambulances were there.
“It hit’s you like a brick. You can relive every minute of a day like that, and I’m sure many families have.”
That tragic discovery shaped Paul Ryan’s course in many ways, Tobin said. He took life and his future a little more seriously than most 16 year-olds do, he said. And the teachings of a father who preached personal responsibility were stamped on the heart of his youngest son.
“I think Paul absorbed that quickly. It put a focus on his life,” Tobin said.
He would need his focus and his faith. Paul became a caregiver for his grandparent suffering Alzheimer’s disease who came to live in the Ryan home.
But it was when Paul Ryan ran for Congress in 1998, after an opening political career as an aide and policy wonk to some of the biggest names in Washington, D.C., that Tobin Ryan said his sibling’s potential really came into focus.
“I got to sit back and sort of in real time discover what my brother had become in those years we had been apart, and I was amazed at his maturity and perspective,” Tobin Ryan said. “He had a gift for providing vision and policy that is absolutely captivating.”
Paul Ryan won election and has won re-election in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District by wide margins since. He has risen to the ranks of the powerful House Budget Committee chairman post, laying out a budget reform plan that has earned the cheers of conservatives and the jeers of most Democrats.
While the Ryans’ blue-collar hometown may have divided feelings on the GOP VP nominee’s politics, Mary Ryan said she picks up a general sense of pride around Janesville in Paul Ryan’s political ascension.
Mary Ryan, whose husband Matthew is Paul Ryan’s cousin, said she’s not surprised by this Ryan family political success story.
“He’s just very intelligent. I just pictured it would happen someday,” she said, before tuning into Thursday’s debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
Tobin Ryan predicted his brother would be in for a lively contest with Biden, expecting the vice president to come out aggressive and “vociferous.” His prediction held.
And, arguably, so did Tobin Ryan’s expectation for his little brother, his old bunkmate, who appeared steady and calm during a furious 90 minutes of political sparring — on fast-fire topics ranging from foreign policy in Libya and Afghanistan to the economy and entitlement programs at home.
“Paul’s never been in a situation like that, certainly not on a national stage,” Tobin said. “But I know he will have an inner peace and confidence in his chance to explain things in a less emotive and more substantive way.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at email@example.com. Follow @wisconsinreport on Twitter.