Does anyone truly believe that Rep. Paul Ryan (now the Republicans' candidate for Vice President), a dyed-in-the-wool free trader who repeatedly voted to oppose the U.S. embargo of Cuba, switched his position after he "spent time learning the true nature of the Castro regime" as Romney-Ryan campaign surrogate and Cuban American Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen put it. Really? The guy who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2002 that he believed Castro uses U.S. policy to "repress his people," didn't understand the repressive nature of the regime? In his own words:
"If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba . . . The embargo doesn't work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it's become more of a crutch for Castro to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo."
Ryan said at that time that the "more we have a free exchange of people and ideas and customs, the more the people of Cuba will be exposed to the values of freedom and liberty."
Ryan acknowledged in the 2002 interview that Cuban-Americans "have their reasons" for supporting the embargo "and they're very passionate about their reasons, I just don't agree with them and never have."
The media may not be interested in pursuing the matter further, but Cuba watchers on both sides of the spectrum understand perfectly well what happened. Paul Ryan did not come to Jesus. He reluctantly fell in line with leadership in the House on this one - at least when it came to votes beginning in 2007 - because it wasn't worth the fight. And House leadership fell in line with Ileana and Lincoln because they are as loyal and fierce as legislators come, but understand this: one thing matters to them above all else - Cuba sanctions. It's plain Ryan doesn't actually believe the policy works, as he couldn't even be bothered to offer new talking points to the same paper in 2008 - after he had the come-to-Jesus moment with his Cuban American colleagues. It's also plain that Cuban American lawmakers don't believe Ryan's change of heart either, and even complained off the record to the Miami Herald that Cuban American voters won't appreciate Marco Rubio's being passed over for a guy with Ryan's spotty record on Cuba.
Does all of this mean Paul Ryan secretly intends to lobby from inside a Romney administration to lift the Cuba embargo? Hardly. No more, in fact, than did Barack Obama, who offered this unequivocal rejection of the embargo he now owns and even reauthorizes every September. Because, whereas as legislators like Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balarts care about nothing so much as they care about Cuba, the Ryans and Obamas care about everything (bigger) else.
So what does having an outed anti-embargo-logue in a Romney White House mean for the policy? Normally I'd say not much, other than that Ryan will be the one to head off any truly crazy notions emanating from Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's Foreign Affairs Committee, especially ones that infringe on Americans' already tightly-constrained rights to trade and interact with the Cuban people.
But then again, Ryan's going to care about a lot more than Cuba, and he and Romney will need to barter for all the votes they can muster in what promises to be a divided Republican caucus next Congress. If anything, it simply means, if they win the White House, Paul Ryan's in for a lot of frustration.