Despite an devastating loss last week, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan rejected Democratic claims of a mandate to raise tax rates on the wealthy.
Asked directly whether President Obama has a mandate, Ryan told ABC News' senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl that the House Republican majority is proof that the president does not.
"I don't think so, because they also reelected the House Republicans. So whether people intended or not, we've got divided government," Ryan, R-Wis., said in his first national interview since last week's loss. "This is a very close election, and unfortunately divided government didn't work very well the last two years. We're gonna have to make sure it works in the next two years."
Ryan returned to the Capitol today, resuming his duties as House Budget chairman. Even though the president aggressively campaigned on raising tax rates on the wealthy and exit polling showed a majority of voters embrace the president's position, Ryan was adamant in his opposition to that strategy.
"Raising tax rates hurts economic growth and of all things we need right now, to prevent a fiscal cliff, prevent a recession, prevent a debt crisis, is we need people to go back to work," Ryan said. "There are other ways of getting more revenue into our government without damaging the economy, and that's the kind of thing we hope to achieve."
"Take away the loopholes," he added. "That's a better way to do it.
While some conservatives have openly blamed Romney for failing to deliver a victory last week, Ryan said he and his running mate "felt very good about the race we ran" while he marveled at the success of the president's ground game.
"We wanted to offer specific ideas and solutions rooted in our country's principles, on how to get people back to work and how to fix the debt crisis, strength in our military, and get people going, you know, back to work, and we offered those ideas," he said. "We ran the kind of campaign we wanted to run. I'm very proud of the campaign we ran, and it was an absolute honor to be on the ticket with Mitt Romney."
"The president deserves kudos for having a fantastic ground game, and the point I'm simply making is he won," he continued. "He won fair and square. He got more votes, and that's the way our system works, and so he ought to be congratulated for that."
Ryan also said that the Romney campaign was "exactly the kinda campaign that I would've run had I been on the top of the ticket."
"We thought we had a very good chance of winning. You know, the polling and the data and all the people who are the smart people who watch this stuff-- they had a pretty optimistic view on the night," Ryan, R-Wis., said. "Going into Boston that day, we felt like we had a pretty darn good chance of winning. So as you can imagine, it was a bit of a shock when we didn't win, but that's just the way these things go."
Ryan, who was easily reelected to his eighth term in the House, said that he "went off the grid" after the loss last week. When news broke that CIA director David Petraeus was resigning due to an extramarital affair, Ryan said he was watching football and movies with his children and didn't even hear about the scandal until his wife Janna told him.
"I kinda took myself off the grid after the election," he said. "I don't know enough about his scandal to give you any comment about the timing or nature of it all. [But] it's terrible."
Ryan said "there's an upside to losing, which is a reconnection with my family, and he described his kids as "completely resilient" after the loss.
"Bad news: dad lost; the good news: they get to stay at the same school," Ryan said. "That was the upside of all this. The downside is we didn't win the election that we really wanted to win."
"Just this last weekend, I got to go to both my boys' basketball games, I got to go to two of my daughter's volleyball games," he said. "Next weekend is opening weekend for deer season and I'm taking my daughter hunting, and that's what I'm looking forward to most right now."
After House Speaker John Boehner characterized Ryan's role going forward as a "policy wonk," Ryan said he welcomes the speaker's portrayal "as a great compliment" and pointed to a decentralized structure of leadership within the GOP ranks, including governors outside of Congress, as confirmation that there is room for leaders in the Republican Party.
"I've always been one of the House policy wonks," Ryan laughed. "I don't think that we have one person who's a leader. We shouldn't have just one person that's a leader of the Republican Party. It's decentralized. We have a lot of great talent in this party. We have a lot of talented people that are gonna be offering their ideas."
Going forward in the lame duck session, Ryan said he envisions he will "continue to be a champion of ideas" as he looks for ways to create economic growth.
"How we have an inclusive party that shows how you get people back to work, how we tackle our country's fiscal challenges, how we make sure we have a strong military, how we prevent our healthcare system from failing?" Ryan wondered. "These are the concerns I have right now."
So will Paul Ryan run for president in 2016?
"Aren't you tired of presidential politics? I know I am," he said with a laugh. "Let's just deal with one thing at a time. I gotta think people are a little sick of hearing about presidential speculation after we just finished this presidential campaign."