Update: Ryan commented further on the intrigue surrounding him and the GOP nomination on Thursday. He said, "It’s not going to be me, it should be somebody running for president." He also said he chided Boehner for talking him up as a potential GOP nominee. "I saw Boehner last night and I told him to knock it off." We'll let everyone decide just his Sherman-esque those statements are.
When a politician says something, there's often more than one way to interpret it. It's what Twitter and, arguably, this blog are for. But ultimately, deciphering a politician's true intention is in the eye of the beholder.
And Paul Ryan's interview with CNBC's John Harwood on Tuesday night will likely have to fall into that gray area: Did he or did he not keep the door to a presidential run open?
Ryan told Harwood he hasn't given much thought the idea of accepting a last-minute nomination at a contested convention this July.
Plus, the facts don't add up to a guy who's toying with running for president: A committee set up to persuade him to run shut down, apparently at the urging of his aides. And to the casual observer, Ryan seems much more focused on his new job as speaker than trying to launch a clandestine presidential bid. In his interview with Harwood, Ryan indicated he doesn't even want the job (right now, at least).
"I actually think you should run for president if you're going to be president, if you want to be president," he said. "I'm not running for president. I made that decision, consciously, not to."
But. Ryan also wouldn't, in Harwood's words, "categorically" rule out accepting Republicans' nomination if it was offered to him at the convention in July. Here's the key passage:
"You know, I haven't given any thought to this stuff. People say, 'What about the contested convention?' I say, well, there are a lot of people running for president. We'll see. Who knows?" Ryan said.
His aides immediately sought to clamp down on the buzzy nature of Ryan's "Who knows?" comment, focusing on the fact that Ryan said he consciously made the decision not to run.
On Paul Ryan/CNBC interview, key line overlooked:
PR: "I'm happy where I am, so no."
He ruled it out, as he's done many times in the past.
— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) March 16, 2016
But Ryan's interview is creating buzz -- even among former House Speaker John Boehner, who Politico reports endorsed Ryan for president if no one wins the nomination outright -- for two reasons: One, he's one of Republicans' undisputed leaders. He's the speaker of the House. He's in charge of presiding over the convention itself. And he's the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee.
Ryan is fully aware of the goings-on of a convention and likely even more acutely aware of the weight his words carry at such an uncertain time for his party. The "Who knows?" remark, this argument goes, wasn't just a slip of the tongue.
And two, his interview with Harwood came as Donald Trump was in the process of sweeping at least three, and possibly four, of the five states voting in the GOP nominating process on Tuesday. The realization is sinking in among Republicans, Tuesday by Tuesday, that Trump is the most likely candidate to be their nominee (though a contested convention is also possible).
Taking this a step further, Ryan has said he'll support whoever the nominee is, but he has also denounced Trump's actions twice in this campaign. It's safe to say Ryan is not a fan of the idea of Trump leading the GOP ticket in November, if it comes to that. Even leaving open the idea of someone wresting the nomination from Trump at a convention is notable.
You can also read what Ryan said another way: He's not ruling out accepting the nomination at a contested convention, because why rule anything out that hasn't happened yet? "Never say never" and all that. Ryan played it off with Harwood like he honestly hadn't thought about the idea yet, so how could he know how he'd react if it came to that?
"I don't see that happening," he said of the idea of a contested convention. "I'm not thinking about it. I'm happy where I am, so no."
His aides point to "so no" as Ryan shutting the door on the idea of accepting a nomination at a contested convention.
And Ryan's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, had this to say about Boehner's endorsement: "The speaker is grateful for the support, but he is not interested. He will not accept a nomination and believes our nominee should be someone who ran this year."
But you could also argue it's not clear whether "so no" was referring to the idea Ryan hadn't thought about a contested convention, or that he wouldn't accept the nomination if it were offered to him.
In some ways, Ryan brought this speculation -- however annoying it might be for him -- on himself. If he really had absolutely zero intention of accepting the party's nomination at any point this election cycle, he could have simply said so.
And he still can. For now, though, what you read into Ryan's latest comments is up to you.