Paul Ryan for President? Probably not.

at 12:41 PM ET, 08/16/2011


Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, center, speaks during a news conference with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, left, and Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
The news that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan is considering a run for president in 2012 threatens to further shake up an already volatile field on the Republican side — though most plugged-in GOP observers regard a bid by the Wisconsin Republican as very unlikely.

The Weekly Standard’s Steve Hayes — a Fix friend — reported this morning that Ryan was debating the possibility of a bid and quoted a GOP source close to the Congressman saying that “he’s coming around” on the idea.

And, last night former Bush White House political strategist Karl Rove told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity that Ryan as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were “going to take a look” at running in 2012.

The Ryan political team — such as it exists — quickly sought to shoot down talk of a national run.“While grateful for the continued support and encouragement, Congressman Ryan has not changed his mind,” said Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert.

Circumstances do change, of course — remember that Barack Obama ruled out a presidential run in 2008 before changing his mind — and “not changed his mind” is not “absolutely will not run under any circumstances”.

So, is there a path for Ryan to be the first president since James Garfield — back in 1880! — to be directly elected from the U.S. House to the White House? And how strong a candidate might he be?

Any discussion of Ryan’s political prospects has to begin (and perhaps end) with the budget plan he rolled out earlier this year. The plan, which the Republican-controlled House approved, was an attempt by Ryan — and his party — to show that they would do more than talk about the need to reduce the federal deficit.

The proposal created considerable controversy as Democrats seized on the piece of it that would have turned Medicare into a voucher program — a change they insisted would imperil the coverage of thousands of older Americans.

So confident were Democrats about the political power of Ryan’s proposed budget that they centered their campaign in New York’s 26th district special election on the Republican nominee’s support for the Ryan plan.

When Democrats won that race, Republican strategists fretted privately that the Ryan budget might cost them control of the House in 2012.

Those same fears would be exponentially increased if Ryan was to run for president as President Obama and his political team would almost certainly make the race into a referendum on the Medicare portion of Ryan’s plan.

Of course, in a Republican presidential primary Ryan’s commitment to austerity — and the high profile it has won him — would be a major positive.

Ryan has built a profile as the last honest man in Washington among many within the Republican base and could paint himself as someone who reluctantly changed his mind about a bid due to his expertise on the prevailing issue of our time.

Still, significant hurdles would remain.

First and foremost, Ryan lacks a built-in political team that could get a late-starting presidential candidacy off the ground quickly. (The Iowa caucuses are now only 174 days away.)

Aside from Pat Shortridge, a Republican consultant who has also advised Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and 2010 Washington State Senate candidate Dino Rossi, Ryan has few connections to the world of political campaigns.

Without a group of experienced hands to begin building operations in early states and lining up donors, Ryan would struggle to translate his conservative celebrity into votes.

“Ryan has no political team or infrastructure that could assemble a presidential campaign and he has no chance of raising the money necessary,” said one senior Republican consultant unaligned in the 2012 contest.

The other major problem for Ryan is that there doesn’t currently appear to be an obvious slot for him in the race.

For the past two months (or so), it had become abundantly clear that former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was not emerging as the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that many thought he would.

Ryan could have occupied that space — although running as a member of the U.S. House is not exactly a great perch at the moment. But, now Texas Gov. Rick Perry is in the race and doing everything he can to fill the slot of “conservative alternative to Romney”.

Fighting Perry for that mantle would be tough for Ryan given the Texas governor’s rhetorical gifts and rapidly expanding political operation.

All that said, the continued whispers about a Ryan presidential bid are nothing but good news for the Wisconsin Republican; the chatter raises his profile nationally, which in turn expands his swat within the House.

Ultimately, however, it seems unlikely that Ryan would jump into the race given the significant challenges he would need to overcome to emerge as a viable top-tier candidate.

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