Politico reports: “Rep. Paul Ryan told a group of business elites and donors at a New York City fundraiser that he’s asking friends and supporters ‘to keep their powder dry’ as he mulls a 2016 presidential bid, two attendees told POLITICO.” However, when Politico questioned Ryan directly, he repeated the exact same line he has told countless people in private and public: He is “keeping his options open.” A close Ryan adviser tersely told me last night, “Nothing new.”
For months, Ryan has been saying he’d consider a presidential run “later.” There is little evidence that he is building an organization or rounding up donors. So aside from a headline –“Paul Ryan signals openness to 2016 run” — that could have been written a year ago and the words of two unidentified people attending a breakfast meeting, there is no sign that he has made a decision or is even thinking seriously about a run.
But let’s play along. What would be the pros and cons of a Ryan campaign?
On the positive side, Ryan is well respected by a wide array of Republicans and is knowledgeable on policy issues, from taxes and entitlements to energy and immigration. He has been in Congress for 15 years, has put together multiple budgets and has run for vice president, which gives him limited but invaluable experience in the rigors of a national campaign. He presumably could tap former Mitt Romney donors for funds. He is an able defender of a strong American presence in the world and pushed for greater defense spending in his latest budget. He is evolving from a singular focus on budgets and debt to a broader message of upward mobility, growth and opportunity.
Most important, Ryan has been a dealmaker and a constructive force on the budget, in trying to corral House members on immigration reform and in daring to put real Medicare reform in a series of GOP budgets. He is by any measure a grown-up. And – no small thing – he has a supportive wife and a telegenic family.
On the negative side, it is far from clear that Ryan has his heart set on the presidency. He will be starting a new job next year as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, a powerful position that will allow him to do what he loves best – develop and advocate for conservative reform. A presidential primary run would put him in the position of attacking fellow Republicans, something he has avoided even during contentious legislative battles.
In other words, like any contender, Ryan would have strong and weak points.
If he decides on a presidential run, he would need to raise his game, developing a more dynamic presence. (He was a capable but not electric campaigner in 2012.) While his youthful appearance and wonkish enthusiasm are endearing (he looks more youthful than his age), he would need to project presidential gravitas and forge the emotional connection with voters that people expect of their presidents these days. All of this is entirely possible — if he really wants to run.
We live in strange political times. Only in presidential politics can an overabundance of wonkishness and politeness be seen as hindrances. But presidential politics is, as we all know, a brawl. (When Ryan’s innocuous remarks on inner-city “culture” were bashed, he hastily apologized for giving any offense.) You have to really want to do it and to believe you are uniquely gifted to lead the country. Does Ryan? It is far from clear, and non-stories straining to read the tea leaves don’t provide much insight. We’ll have to wait some more for him to decide whether he wants to spend the next couple of years running for president.