WASHINGTON, DC — He may be one of the most conservative members of the House, but Paul Ryan did little to wow Republicans’ Christian conservative base during his star turn at the Value Voters Summit Friday.
Although none of the participants in the meeting said they had problems with his positions per se, few seemed particularly enthused with Mitt Romney’s pick for his vice presidential running mate.
"If he's saying that he's for family values, then I sure hope that he legislates that way," said Michelle Fatta, a conservative activist at the Government Is Not God PAC booth. "If Paul Ryan is pro-life and pro-family, I want to know it."
Fatta said she was unhappy with the Republican ticket and concerned that the candidate isn't a true conservative.
"Mitt Romney isn't conservative enough," she said. "I am very pro-life. I want to see every abortion clinic shut down in America." Fatta is a voter who sees the race in epic, biblical terms. "Back in 2008 I had a vision of Jesus on his knees, weeping outside the Capitol. I knew he was weeping for our nation," she said.
"I don't like it when they just say they're pro-life," Fatta said, "and what I want to know is, what did you do to defund Planned Parenthood?"
Ryan does support defunding Planned Parenthood, and has voted for a number of anti-abortion measures in the house. But many voters at the Summit weren't aware of the specifics of his record.
Paul Ryan "is a good guy," said Elizabeth Johnson, a high school senior from North Carolina.
"He's a good speaker," added her friend Mackenzie Bird from Texas, also a senior in high school.
Johnson and Bird both listed their most important issue as the economy, and their most important cultural issues as abortion and traditional marriage. But they couldn't say whether Ryan was especially strong on the social issues.
"I don't know," said Bird.
"I think he's pretty good there. He didn't have a lot of time to speak, so you can't talk about everything." Johnson nodded in agreement.
Darline Wolf, 40, of Kentucky, was at the conference with her husband and nine children, the smallest of whom toddled around the hallway accompanied by an older brother.
She listed the strongest defenders of her values as former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann. As for Paul Ryan, "I don't know how strong he is about gay marriage."
Wolf is suspicious of the Romney ticket. "There's a lot to be desired there," she said, though she does think "he's a better choice than Obama … not crazy like Obama."
Regardless, "if the Republicans ran an aardvark they'd win," Wolf said.
Even conservative leaders were positive but not glowing reviews.
When asked if Ryan lent credibility on social issues to the campaign, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council and host of the conference demurred.
"I wouldn't use the word credibility I would say he connected more strongly. I think it was a strategic decision from the campaign to have him here to speak,” Perkins said.
But even some of the movement’s leading lights had less than charitable things to say about Ryan’s appearance.
"I was disappointed he didn't talk more about marriage, because this is the friendliest place in the world to talk about the institution of marriage … I just have to conclude that somehow, the directions came from the top of the campaign " American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer said in an interview with BuzzFeed. (Fischer later texted to say that he'd seen Romney's video address and approved of its message on marriage.)
"Life and marriage are our two most important policy issues," Fischer said. "And we've had concerns about the depth of Governor Romney's convictions on these issues. Here was a chance for his surrogate to reassure us about that, but I don't think he did."