For those who favor Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for president, the decision by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to forgo a presidential run was good news. Had Daniels run, Ryan certainly would not have. With Daniels gone from the field, there is certainly room for a wonkish, budget-cutter. And the notion that the Ryan “bubble” has popped is belied by recent developments.
Most important, Ryan is now at pains to avoid ruling out a presidential run. Bill Kristol, who has first claim to proposing a Ryan-Rubio ticket, writes today about Ryan’s appearance on Fox last night:
Ryan was also asked about calls for him to enter the presidential race. He acknowledged, “I get this quite a bit.” But, he said, “I really believe I can do more for this cause where I am right now as chairman of the House Budget Committee. I have no plans to do this — it takes an enormous undertaking to do this — and right now where I am at this moment, I need to focus on this budget fight we’re in. This summer we’re going to be spending a lot of time in budget fights and to me, that’s where I can make the biggest contribution to the debate right now.”
That’s three uses of “right now” in three sentences. He’s not running, and not planning to run, right now. But he also said later in the interview that “what matters to me is that leaders step up and offer solutions to our country’s problems,” and that “I think people are hungry for people to step up and offer solutions. That’s what leaders do and those of us who are leading — I think people want that.” What’s more: “If you want to be the president of the United States, you should put up ideas on how to solve this country’s massive fiscal and economic problems. The current president isn’t doing that. Our nominees should do that.”
So the door is ajar — not “right now,” but after the summer, and if no one else is able to show the kind and quality of leadership that’s needed.
Equally important was Ryan’s performance on substantive issues — composed, factual, specific and persuasive. It is the ability to calmly dissect the Democrats’ spin (and their lack of an effective plan to rescue entitlement programs) and to present an alternate vision that has always been the heart of his appeal both to Tea Partyers and establishment Republicans.
Kristol also points to what is in essence a draft Ryan campaign at the Web site ConservativeHome.com. The Web site is run by Ryan Streeter, who worked as a special assistant for domestic policy to George W. Bush and is now a fellow at several think tanks. Streeter gave five reasons in an earlier post for a Ryan run: “Ryan was harping on our nation’s fiscal crisis before it was cool”; “he’s young”; “he knows how to appeal to voters of all stripes and could do well in a general election”; “he knows how to do well in a primary”; and “he would keep the Republican primary honest.” We’ll keep track of the draft Ryan effort.
I contacted Streeter this mornng to find out more about his effort. He replied by e-mail:
I was a “Mitch guy” who supported Mitch because if he ran, he would have been running to take on America’s gravest threat (debt/deficit) rather than running out of a general ambition to become President. I decided a couple months ago that if Mitch took a pass, I’d likely get serious about joining an effort to get Ryan to run. . . . Also, we do our own polling of conservative Republicans across the country, and on some questions we allow respondents to write in responses. On a couple of early polls about 2012 contenders, people were writing in Ryan’s name even when he wasn’t on the list. It was clear he was starting to get through to people, even with a boring title like Budget Committee chairman (and post SOTU, having given the response to a speech that avoided the deficit, many more households started tracking with him).
He hasn’t communicated with Ryan’s office about the draft effort, but then, “for now” Ryan has his day job, namely running the day-to-day battle to combat President Obama’s vision and to present a competing conservative agenda. Some would say that in effect he’s already running a campaign against Obama, cost free and with all the earned media he can handle. Some would say it’s the most effective way to increase his visibility, avoid incoming fire from potential contenders and drive home the message that he is, for all intents and purposes, the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Just saying.