When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was picked as Mitt Romney's running mate last August, conservatives rejoiced.
Ryan, after all, is known as a conservative's conservative, having authored the GOP budget that contained trillions in spending cuts and major entitlement reform. By picking Ryan, the logic went, Romney was making a bold choice in the name of shoring up the GOP base.
But in today's Republican Party, Ryan's recent voting record is hardly one of the most conservative. And in fact, his votes over the past two years paint the picture of a middle-of-the-road conservative Republican rather than a rabble-rousing tea party crusader.
Whether that says more about the Republican Party or Paul Ryan is up for debate.
Ryan's move to the middle is one of the most interesting findings in the new 2012 vote ratings put out by the conservative Club for Growth and several other organizations. We've put them in chart form below:
You'll note that on the scorecards for both the Club for Growth and National Journal, Ryan actually ranked in the bottom half of House Republicans as far as his conservatism (128th out of 242). And his ratings from the three groups which also provide lifetime scores for Ryan suggests he was more moderate in 2012 than previous years.
If there's a group that should love a fiscal conservative like Ryan, it's certainly the Club for Growth. The group is devoted to economic issues and especially appreciates Republicans who have been active on their issues and have stuck their necks out for the cause.
But while he routinely ranked in the Club's top 40 Republicans early in his career, Ryan is no longer a Club favorite. While the Club praised his selection as Romney's VP, it had previously criticized his budget as doing too little.
And the last two years, he has dropped considerably in its rankings.
The reasons Ryan slipped on the Club's scorecard in 2012 were his vote against the Republican Study Committee budget -- an alternative to his own -- and his votes for the transportation bill and the omnibus spending bill. On those issues, he has aligned more with Republican leadership -- of which he is a member as budget committee chairman -- than the conservative wing of the party.
When asked about Ryan's less-conservative turn, Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said only: "His voting record speaks for itself.”
Perhaps most illustrative, Ryan has been considerably less conservative than his potential 2016 presidential primary foes, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), according to all five ratings.
While Ryan has rightly earned a reputation as a conservative, in today's Republican Party, there's a difference between a conservative and a conservative's conservative. And groups like the Club for Growth and tea party-aligned groups have put a premium on ideological purity in today's Republican Party.
Ryan's recent voting record suggests he's more interested in being a party leader than a true believer. That might be great for his future in the House, but he could be ceding some ground in the presidential primary to the likes of Rubio and Paul.
If he actually wants to run for president, that is.