Mitt Romney was asked on CNN on Sunday whether Paul Ryan, his 2012 ticketmate, should give in to Republican pleas and run for speaker. Here's what Mitt said:
Well, you know, it's really a tough decision for him and I'm sure a personal decision. From my own standpoint, I see Paul as one of the people coming along that has the potential to lead our country. And if he became speaker of the House in the near term, that's also a crucial role. We need Paul in two spots at once and I — you know, there haven't been a lot of people that have gone on from speaker to the White House, so I'd hate to lose him as a potential contender down the road for the White House, but I — he is such a man of such talent and such integrity and character that he's a real resource for the country. So whether it's now for the speakership or whether instead we see him hold on and ultimately become potentially a candidate for president, I don't know. It's his decision, but I'm just glad to know him and to know we have him in our quiver.
That's 173 total words. Here's what Mitt meant in just three: Don't do it.
The truth about being a very successful politician — like the sort who could even think about running a credible campaign for president — is that you have to be selfish some of the time. (Okay, a lot of the time.) Politicians don't like talking about that character trait much since they want to project the image that every decision they make is about what's best for the public good — or at least, the good of the party. And lots of the time, doing the right thing for the party (or the public) is good personal politics, too. But sometimes it isn't.
I give you Barack Obama circa 2007. Hillary Clinton was running (or at least everyone knew she was running) and the conventional wisdom directed at Obama went something like this: "You're a young guy with a bright future. Why not wait an election or two to run in your own right? You could help unify voters behind Clinton and give the party its best chance of winning in 2008."
Obama, of course, didn't follow that advice. He saw a path right then that would get him elected to the top job, not Clinton. He took lots and lots of flak for it. He's too young! Wait your turn! It's bad for the party! Also, he won. Selfish decision — and a very smart one.
Fast-forward to Ryan. The truth that Romney speaks — albeit it in a circuitous way — is that the path to the speakership and the path to the presidency are not the same path. (If you bet the "over" on the number of times I would write "path" in that last sentence, you won!) The last speaker of the House to be elected president was James K. Polk — way back in 1844! Before Obama, the last sitting senator to be directly elected to the White House was John F. Kennedy in 1960. And with Republican primary voters growing increasingly disenchanted with Washington and everyone in it, volunteering to be the face of Washington Republicans isn't exactly the best career choice if you do want to be president.
The simple fact is that if Ryan does want to run for and/or be president one day, becoming speaker is a very bad idea. Ryan has been rightly selfish before — turning down repeated overtures to run for Senate or for governor over the years. (With Ryan as the GOP nominee in 2012, is it possible he beats Sen. Tammy Baldwin to hold the seat for the GOP? Sure.)
When the House returns to Washington this week, Ryan will be under intense pressure to pick up the speaker's mantle for the "good of the party." If he still harbors the dream of being president, he'd be well advised to listen to his friend Mitt Romney. He's a cool dude. He's trying to help you out.