Over at the Weekly Standard, John McCormack does an able job responding to several conservative bloggers who have raised concerns about the potential presidential candidacy of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Let me begin by saying that it is significant that by far the most interesting and refreshing conversation about a candidate this week has concerned Ryan, not the race’s newest entrant, Texas Gov. Rick Perry. (Perry’s job record is enviable and his strongest suit, but has he said or done anything impressive, unexpected or particular noteworthy this week — other than his Fed chairman gaffe and reversing himself on mandatory HPV vaccination?)
In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a Ryan candidacy, I will add a few points. On the down side, he’s never done this. Perry’s entrance showed, if nothing else, that the most experienced pols can come off looking less than pristine in a presidential race. In his defense, however, Ryan has already lived in the D.C. media bubble for some time and is, to put it mildly, a bit more adept at interacting with the national media than some hard-core Republicans.
In, addition to the strengths McCormack lists, I’ll add two. First, Ryan is of a new generation of Republicans (“the Young Guns”) who are ideologically solid and energetic. He's not easily stereotyped, but he is accessible to key demographic groups. Politico reports:
“I think Paul is so important where he is right now,” said [Rep. Tom] Cole. “This would be getting into the race sooner in his life and later in the cycle than I would have advised him to do. But he’s somebody I really think highly of. If he got in the race I would look long and hard at him.”
Added a fellow committee chair of Ryan: “I do like and respect him a lot, but I would be surprised with his young kids if he jumped in.”
[Rep. Peter] Roskam sounded a similar note. “I think he’s got to make a decision largely around what’s good for his family — his family comes up frequently in these conversations,” said the three-term Republican. “But Paul Ryan is a real thought leader. His getting into the race changes the dynamic. A guy like Ryan sells in suburban Chicago.”
With the possible exception of Mitt Romney (who lacks the appeal to younger voters), is there someone who matches that in the current field?
But the strongest argument for Ryan is that the country is in a mess and he’s one of the few conservatives who have the expertise and knowledge to address our major challenges. Yuval Levin and Peter Wehner have a must-read column in the Wall Street Journal that argues that the Tea Party has yet to provide bold leadership on our most critical problem, entitlement reform. They cite Rep. Michele Bachmann’s hesitancy on Medicare reform. But what of the other candidates? Perry wants to have a “discussion” about Social Security. Good golly. How long would it take him to catch up to “Path to Prosperity”? It’s a bit embarrassing, actually, to have candidates who don’t have concrete plans on taxes, growth, the debt and entitlements.
Rather than ask who could get elected (if the economy keeps up it will be anyone with an “R” next to his or her name), Republicans should be asking who is most prepared, most capable and most knowledgeable about the problems we face. Rather than look for a candidate, they should look for the next president, one more competent than the current one.
That may be one of the existing candidates, but many conservatives haven’t spotted that person. That is precisely why so many are buzzing about getting someone who already knows what needs to be done.