But the summer of 1986 brought a life-changing event. One night in August, he came home from work well past midnight, and he slept late the following morning. His mother was in Colorado visiting his sister, and his brother, who had a summer job with the Janesville parks department, had left early. Paul answered a frantic phone call from his father’s secretary. “Your dad’s got clients in here,” she said. “Where is he?” Paul walked into his parents’ bedroom and thought his father was sleeping. “I went to wake him up,” he told me, “and he was dead.”
“It was just a big punch in the gut,” Ryan said. “I concluded I’ve got to either sink or swim in life.” His mother went back to school, in Madison, and studied interior design; his grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, moved into their home, and Ryan helped care for her. “I grew up really fast,” he said.
He took both schoolwork and extracurricular activities more seriously, he told me. In his junior year, he was elected class president, which made him prom king and gave him a seat representing the high school on Janesville’s school board, his first political position. He played soccer and was on the ski team. He joined nearly every school club: Latin Club, History Club, the Letterman’s Club, for varsity athletes, and the International Geographic Society, which was open to students who received an A in geography, and which met monthly to learn about a different country. At the end of his senior year, he was elected Biggest Brown-Noser. (“At least I didn’t have a mullet,” he said.)
His father’s death also provoked the kind of existential soul-searching that most kids don’t undertake until college. “I was, like, ‘What is the meaning?’ ” he said. “I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on.” Like many conservatives, he claims to have been profoundly affected by Ayn Rand. After reading “Atlas Shrugged,” he told me, “I said, ‘Wow, I’ve got to check out this economics thing.’ What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of the fatal conceit of socialism, of too much government.” He dived into Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.
July 30, 2012
From a New Yorker article written by Ryan Lizza: