March 25, 2013

As soon as President Obama declared victory in last year’s elections, speculation shifted to the 2016 presidential race. The GOP roster, so far, is filled with figures only somewhat familiar to the average voter: Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and most recently, Rand Paul.

Missing from this list is the other Paul — Wisconsin Representative and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Indeed, as Jonathan Martin writes at Politico, the one-time conservative icon seems to have vanished from the political stage:

In conversations with scores of Republicans in Washington and beyond, it’s striking how little organic support or even interest there is for a Ryan presidential bid so soon after Mitt Romney elevated the Wisconsin wonk to the highest levels of national political stardom. Open-ended questions about who is drawing early attention don’t even include a pro forma mention of last year’s popular vice presidential nominee.

As Martin acknowledges, “Buzz, or lack of it, in the spring of 2013…can be easily dismissed as irrelevant.” Still, of the many figures in a political party, vice presidential nominees are — in theory — best positioned for future elections. They’re vetted for scrutiny, experienced in national campaigns, and have ties to key donors, fundraisers and activists. Given his youth and stature within the party, his absence from the early presidential field is unusual.

With that said, it’s important to recognize the extent to which Ryan remains a hugely influential figure within the GOP. He may have had to go back to the House of Representatives after the 2012 elections, but his grip on the GOP’s ideas is as tight as it’s ever been. In the fight over the fiscal cliff, for example, House Republicans pushed an agenda that reflected Ryan’s priorities: Tax cuts for the wealthy matched with large reductions to social spending. And just last week, House Republicans voted near-unanimously to accept Ryan’s budget plan — a massive rethinking of the federal government’s obligations (fewer programs for the poor, greater benefits for the rich) disguised as a plan to reduce the debt and balance the budget.

And while some Republicans are trying working to shed the party’s association with austerity, the Ryan budget remains the foundation for their “growth” agenda. To wit, Jindal wants to end income and corporate taxes in Louisiana, while Rubio sees balanced budgets as an urgent national priority.

There’s no way to know if Ryan will be a contender in the 2016 elections. What we can say, however, is that he’s made an indelible mark on the priorities of the Republican Party. For the foreseeable future, at least, the GOP is — at heart — Paul Ryan’s party.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.