When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) announced he wouldn’t run for the presidential nomination, many conservatives’ instant reaction was: Will Paul Ryan run now? Quite coincidentally, the House Budget Committee chair appeared on “Meet the Press.” And he specifically did not shut the door on a presidential run:

MR. GREGORY: What about your own plans? There’s a move afoot this morning, one of the big trending stories is whether you might actually join the race with a fiscal discipline message for 2012. Will it happen?

REP. RYAN: Well, look, I’ve been very clear about this. I’m not running for president. I feel, because we are in a big budget debate, I’m in a great position as chairman of the House Budget Committee to really weigh in on this debate. And I feel at the moment we are in, I want to stay focused on where we are right now, and that is getting our fiscal house in order.

MR. GREGORY: So under no circumstances would you run or be on the ticket as a number two?

REP. RYAN: Look, I, I’m not going to get into all those hypotheticals. I’m not running for president, I’m not planning on running for president. If you’re running for president, you’ve got to do a lot of things to line up a candidacy. I’ve not done any of those things. It’s not my plan. My plan is to be a good chairman of the House Budget Committee and fight for the fiscal sanity of this nation.

MR. GREGORY: Understood. There’s a little bit of door opening there, though, the door’s a bit ajar. And you know how, you know how this works.

REP. RYAN: It’s not door opening, it’s just — I do know how this works, and I’m not going to get into all these hypotheticals in the future. My point is I’m not running for president. You never know what opportunities present themselves way down the road. I’m not talking about right now. And I want to focus on fixing the fiscal problems of this country. And I really believe, David, where I am as chairman of the House Budget Committee puts me in a great position to, to be a great contributor to this debate.

He did not say he wouldn’t plan a run, nor did he rule out accepting a grass-roots effort to draft him. There’s hope for Ryan fans.

He also demonstrated why he is so heavily sought after. On the budget:

“You cannot ever fully balance the budget and pay off the debt unless you address the drivers of the debt. The drivers of our debt are our health care entitlements. We need a leader who is willing to address this. We don’t have that leader in the White House right now. We don’t have those leaders running the Senate right now.”

He punched back at Newt Gingrich and the “Mediscare” crowd:

“Let’s be clear about what we’re proposing here — this is as sensible and gradual as it gets. We’re saying no changes for Medicare for people at or above the age of 55. In order to keep the promise to current seniors who have already retired and organized their lives around this program, you have to reform it for the next generation. The way in which we propose to reform it for the next generation — in keeping with Bill Clinton’s bipartisan commission to reform Medicare — is an idea that’s been around for a long time called premium support: guaranteed coverage options for Medicare, where the government subsidizes the poor and the sick a whole lot more than the wealthy, and people get to choose. We’re saying: do not affect current seniors, give future seniors the ability to deny business to inefficient providers. By contrast, the President’s plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors by empowering a panel of 15 unelected bureaucrats to put price controls and rationing in place for current seniors.”

But he also said something about leadership and public character:

“I don’t consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be. Leaders change the polls. We are not seeing this kind of leadership from the President of the United States. The Senate Democrats still haven’t even proposed a budget — they haven’t passed a budget for 753 days and we have a budget crisis. We need to change the polls. . . . I just did 19 town hall meetings in a district I work for that went for Obama, Gore, Clinton and Dukakis. Those I serve are hungry for solutions. I truly believe that the people are way ahead of the political class. And I think they will reward a leader that actually steps up to the plate and actually fixes these problems no matter how much demagoguery, no matter how much distortion, no matter how much the other political party tries to scare seniors in the next election. I just don’t think they’re going to buy it this year.”

And then there is the subject of taxes. The Post’s Glenn Kessler today looks at Ryan’s point that Obama would raise the top marginal tax rate to 45 percent. It turns out Ryan’s entirely right:

Put another way, Ryan shows that Obama’s budget would effectively boost the marginal rate for high earners by a hidden 7.5 percentage points, or an increase of 20 percent. For every $100,000 of additional income, about $45,000 would go to federal taxes. (State and local taxes would eat up more; there are no additional Social Security taxes at this income.) . . . Paul Ryan’s attention-getting figure adds up and appears credible, so Ryan earns the rare Geppetto Checkmark.

Glenn is a tough grader, so this is high praise. How many other politicians can drill down into the numbers and confront Obama with unassailable data no one else has uncovered?

Each time Ryan appears to restate in even, calm tones his own debt-cutting plans and Medicare reform or undermine the president’s false assertions, he only reinforces the impression among conservatives looking for a fresh face that he’s the one. Who else?