Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., warned Republicans today that President Obama must "delegitimize" the Republican party to achieve his goals, urging his colleagues to pick their battles with the president judiciously and avoid playing "the villain" in Mr. Obama's "morality plays."
The president "needs to delegitimize the Republican party - and House Republicans in particular," said Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, during a speech at the National Review Institute Summit in Washington, D.C.
"The president will bait us. He'll portray us as cruel and unyielding," Ryan said. "Just the other day, he said Republicans had 'suspicions' about Social Security. He said we had 'suspicions' about feeding hungry children."
"It's the same trick he plays every time: Fight a straw man. Avoid honest debate. Win the argument by default," Ryan explained. "We can't get rattled. We won't play the villain in his morality play. We have to stay united. We have to show that, if given the chance, we can govern."
The dual plea - for Republican unity and strategic prudence - was a recurring theme in Ryan's remarks, which focused primarily on how Republicans must orient themselves in Mr. Obama's second term and beyond to reestablish the party as a governing force.
The president will "try to divide us with phony emergencies and bogus deals," Ryan warned. "He'll try to get us to fight with each other, to question each other's motives, so we don't challenge him."
But "If we play into his hands," Ryan explained, "We will betray the voters who supported us and the country we mean to serve. We can't let that happen. We have to be smart. We have to show prudence."
Ryan referenced the recently passed "fiscal cliff" legislation as an example of the dangers of disunity - while he voted for the compromise legislation that allowed taxes to rise on individual income in excess of $400,000, he was not joined by a majority of his House GOP colleagues.
"We'll face some tough moments, like the fiscal cliff," he said. "I know we all didn't see eye to eye on that vote, but here's how I saw it...President Obama got less revenue than the Speaker [of the House John Boehner] offered in the first place. In short, there was no way we'd get a better deal."
Despite the plea for circumspection, Ryan reassured his audience that prudence will necessarily submit to confrontation when appropriate.
"I'm not saying we should be excessively cautious," he explained. "When we see an opening, however small, we should take it. What I'm saying is, if we want to promote conservatism, we'll need to use every tool at our disposal. Sometimes, we'll have to reject the president's proposals, and sometimes, we'll have to make them better."