Meet Tim Ryan, Democratic Presidential Candidate
from The Water's Edge

Meet Tim Ryan, Democratic Presidential Candidate

Tim Ryan speaks at the North America's Building Trades Unions 2019 legislative conference in Washington, DC. Yuri Gripas/REUTERS
Tim Ryan speaks at the North America's Building Trades Unions 2019 legislative conference in Washington, DC. Yuri Gripas/REUTERS

Update: Tim Ryan announced on October 24, 2019, that he was ending his campaign.

Niles, Ohio, is one of the few places in the United States that can say it is the birthplace of a president. America’s twenty-fifth president, William McKinley, was born and raised in the town, which is located just northwest of Youngstown. If Tim Ryan gets his way, Niles will become the birthplace of two American presidents. The Democratic presidential candidate was born in Niles one hundred and thirty years after McKinley. One downside for the town in having a second presidential son would be finding a way to recognize the accomplishment. Niles already has a monument to McKinley, a replica of the house he grew up in, and a public library and high school named after him.

The Basics

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Name: Timothy John Ryan

Date of Birth: July 16, 1973

Place of Birth: Niles, Ohio

Religion: Roman Catholic

Political Party: Democratic Party

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Marital Status: Married (Andrea Zetts)

Children: Brady (4); Stepchildren: Mason (16) and Bella (15)

Alma Mater: Bowling Green State University (BS); University of New Hampshire School of Law (JD)

Career: Lawyer; Ohio State Senator (2001-2002); U.S. Representative (2003-present)

Campaign Website:

Twitter Handle: @TimRyan

Ryan’s Announcement

Tim Ryan announced his candidacy on ABC’s “The View,” where he said he is running as someone who speaks to the problems of rural and Rust Belt America. He distinguished himself from President Trump by saying that the president “wants to go back to the old economy; he’s talking about old steel mills and old coal mines. I am saying where are our kids going to work and how do we come together.”

Ryan released a video introducing his candidacy. It highlights how he grew up in a factory town and how his family members worked in factories. He says that “a lot of people have been left behind” in America and that he wants “to be there for them.” He adds that Americans “aren’t looking for liberal solutions or conservative solutions, they’re asking for real-world solutions.” The announcement video didn’t mention foreign policy.

Ryan’s Story

Ryan’s parents divorced when he was seven and he was raised by his mother, who was a courthouse worker. He was the star quarterback at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio. He went to Youngstown State University to play football, but a knee injury derailed that plan. He transferred to Bowling Green University with the aim of becoming a teacher. But then he landed an internship in Washington, DC, and his career plans turned toward politics. He earned his law degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

Ryan worked as an aide to Ohio Democratic Congressman James Traficant in the 1990s. Ryan then returned home and won a seat in the Ohio state senate. In 2002, Traficant was expelled from the House after his conviction on bribery and racketeering charges. Ryan saw his opportunity. He defeated several better known candidates on his way to winning Traficant’s old seat. He credits his opposition to NAFTA as a major factor in his victory.

Ryan was just twenty-nine when he was elected. He has won reelection seven times since. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He chairs the Legislative Branch subcommittee and is a member of the Defense and Military Construction subcommittees. He was previously a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Ryan made a name for himself in 2016 when he unsuccessfully challenged Nancy Pelosi to be the House Democratic Leader. After the 2018 midterm elections, he initially opposed Pelosi’s bid to return as House Speaker. That challenge failed as well and he ended up voting for her. Ryan says he has challenged Pelosi because he is tired of Democrats losing legislative seats and he thinks that the Democratic House leadership needs more Midwestern representation.

Ryan’s Message

Ryan is positioning himself as the defender of America’s forgotten workers. He says that he decided to run for president when his daughter told him, “You have to do something” after her friend’s father lost his job when the local GM factory shutdown. (He has also told a version of the story in which the plant closure forced the friend’s father to transfer jobs.) He believes that a mix of bad policies and neglect has “destroyed the middle-class, forcing our economy into crisis and pushing the American Dream out of reach.” He wants to change that.

Ryan calls himself a “reform-minded Democrat.” He believes in free-enterprise and argues that “the progressive agenda is what’s best for working families.” He is confident that most progressives will see him as someone who can win the Midwestern states necessary to beat Trump. He also sees himself as a uniter—“a leader with the courage, strength, and experience to put partisan politics aside.” Ryan believes that there is a “quiet revolution happening in our country” and that if we “put our shoulder into it, it’s going to happen.”

Ryan’s Foreign Policy Views

Given Ryan’s focus on rejuvenating industrial and rural America, it’s not surprising that he frequently talks about the economic challenge that China poses to the United States. In the first Democratic debate back in June, his answer to the question of the biggest geopolitical challenge facing the United States was “China, without a question. They’re wiping us around the world, economically.” Elsewhere he said that China is “cleaning our clock” and taking it to America around the globe:

China is coming at us. They are in Africa. They are locking down long-term deals in Africa for raw materials. They’re building islands in the South China Sea. They’ve got very detailed, long-term programs like their One Belt, One Road, where they’re connecting Asia to the Middle East. They’ve got a Make It In China 2025, where they’re really trying to take over manufacturing in the world. They’re investing hundreds of billions of dollars in artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, wind, solar, high-speed rail. And we aren’t even acting like we’re in a competition with them.

How does Ryan propose to turn back the China challenge? To begin with, he supports Trump’s use of tariffs because “China's been cheating for years, and they've been dumping products artificially, lowered the prices…And it's wiping out steel across the country, not to mention what they do with intellectual property and a variety of other things.” But while Ryan wants to be as tough as possible as he can on China, he also said that “we don't want a trade war.” He hasn’t explained how his use of tariffs would be more effective than Trump’s or produce less collateral damage for the industries he is trying to help. Ryan has been clear, however, on what he wouldn’t do to meet the China challenge—join a revised version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He believes it “has been negotiated under the cover of darkness, it does nothing to protect American workers or lift the standards of workers abroad and further erodes sovereign protections that countries have to hold companies accountable for bad actions abroad.”

Ryan criticizes the Trump administration for not having a long-term strategy to compete with China, saying “you go to China, they have their defense department, their infrastructure plan, their soft power plan within the context of their state department. You look at their research, you look at their development. Everything is pushing in one direction on how do you dominate industries. And right now we have no plan.” Ryan hasn’t outlined what his plan would look like let alone present an integrated set of policies that link means to costs to objectives. However, he has praised now former Secretary of Defense James Mattis for putting together “really the only comprehensive long-term plan for acquisition, technology, and readiness within, and creating a lethal force within the National Defense Strategy.”

Ryan sees “having people in the State Department” and “having a long-term, sophisticated, diplomatic operation, being in touch with China, continuing to talk to them and having a relationship with them in the long term” as part of the solution. He goes on to say that “having an economic strategy of our own in that region of the world, making sure that we are competing globally, we're not retreating from, you know, NATO and our relationships that we have militarily and diplomatically in that region, and letting our friends and allies know that we are going to be with them and compete in this global economy” is essential and that “there's none of that going on right now in the Trump administration.”

Ryan supports Trump’s efforts to increase defense spending because that “funding helps us keep our position as a leader on the world stage.” He also favors getting America’s allies to spend more on their own defense, and sees it as a way to reduce U.S. defense costs:

People say well, what the hell do we need to be friends with this country or that country. Well, if you peel the onion back one layer, you realize well, they’ve got five submarines and they help us in Iraq, and they help us in Syria, and they help us here and they help us there. Those are costs and expenses we don’t have to incur, because we have friends. And so yeah, we’ve got to build more submarines, because we are falling behind. But we also have to make sure we keep those relationships with our allies, because we utilize their material and their weapon systems, too.

Ryan attributes the surge of migrants and refugees along the U.S.-Mexico border to Trump’s “laziness,” saying that the president “has failed to address the issues in Central America…He doesn’t read his presidential daily briefing. He ignored this problem. We want presidents to deal with the root of the problems. Central America is a mess and we are doing nothing to stabilize that region.”

Climate change doesn’t come up in Ryan’s public remarks as much as it does with many other Democratic presidential candidates. He believes that to meet the challenge “we need the magic and innovation of our free enterprise system to be a big part of this.” He is optimistic that if we “align the environmental incentives with the financial incentives, that we can actually do it a lot quicker than most people think.”

Ryan parts ways with many of his Democratic rivals when it comes to U.S. troop deployments overseas. In the first Democratic debate, he supported maintaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He acknowledged that “nobody likes it” and that “it’s long. It’s tedious.” But he argued that if the United States retreated “the Taliban will grow. And they will have bigger, bolder terrorist acts.” He does hope, however, to bring the bulk of U.S. combat troops home from Afghanistan by the end of his first term in office.

Ryan supported the Trump administration’s airstrikes against Syria in 2017 and 2018. He described the attacks as sending a “message that our nation and our allies will not stand by while international law is broken by the use of chemical weapons against innocent men, women, and children.” He nonetheless has criticized the president for not consulting with Congress about the strikes and for not having developed a strategy for dealing with Damascus.

One U.S. military operation Ryan opposes is support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. He believes that the United States “cannot continue to be complicit in the killing of innocents and we cannot be tied to crimes of the Saudi government.” Ryan missed the votes the House held in February and in April calling for an end to the U.S. support for the Yemen operation.

Ryan supported the Obama administration’s decision to strike a nuclear deal with Iran. He has criticized Trump for exiting the agreement, calling his decision “completely reckless.” However, he doesn’t think it is possible to re-enter the agreement as is. He wants to negotiate a new version of the deal that “extends restrictions even further into the future."

More broadly, Ryan believes that costs of withdrawing from the world outweigh the costs of having an active presence in it: “We must have our State Department engaged. We must have our military engaged to the extent they need to be. But the reality of it is, this president doesn't even have people appointed in the State Department to deal with these things, whether we're talking about Central America, whether we're talking about Iran, whether we're talking about Afghanistan. We've got to be completely engaged.”

More on Ryan

Ryan has two books to his credit. A proponent of meditation, he wrote a book originally published in 2012 and titled A Mindful Nation. It was re-released in 2018 as Healing America: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Recapture the American Spirit. His second book, released in 2014, was The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm. It promotes healthy eating.

POLITICO Magazine profiled Ryan last year, pointing out that roughly forty-five thousand of Ryan’s supporters in 2016 also voted for Trump. Ryan attributes this to their similar stances on China and their willingness to take on the establishment.

Time Magazine noted that Ryan has been a member of the NRA and opposed abortion rights during his career and concluded that “he is banking his potential in booting Trump from the White House will be more important that deviations from what is now party orthodoxy.”

In a second pieceTime Magazine explored his chances of winning the nomination, saying that “the party is fielding its most diverse group of contenders in history, including firebrands, pioneers and coalition builders,” which leaves little room for a “little-known Midwestern Congressman who was against abortion rights until 2015 and has made rebuilding the party’s connection with blue collar voters the centerpiece of his campaign.”

Ryan answered eighteen questions for the New York Times earlier this summer. One of the questions was where he would take his first international trip. His answer? “Europe.”

CFR asked Ryan twelve foreign policy questions. He cited the creation of “a world order that has led to the proliferation of democracy, democratic ideals and the raised standard of living for every human being alive today” as America’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment” since World War II and “moves since 9/11 including the war in Iraq” as the biggest mistake. 

Corey Cooper, Brenden Ebertz, Elizabeth Lordi assisted in the preparation of this post.

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