Ryan Feels the Call

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 16 2011 4:36 PM

Ryan Feels the Call

In some western democracies, a prominent fiscal role in the government is often a stepping stone to the top role. Paul Martin was Canada's minister of finance for nine years before taking over as prime minister. Gordon Brown was the Chancellor of the Exchequer for eight years; then he was prime minister. You take the blame for your party's fiscal policies, but you take the credit too, and you're in front of the media all the time debating the key issues of government.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

So the new-new-new boomlet for a Paul Ryan presidential bid makes some sense. Steve Hayes kicked it off in the pages of the Weekly Standard, which is also home to a "Ryan can win" column by Bill Kristol whenever things get slow.

“He’s coming around,” says a Republican source close to Ryan, who has been urging the 41-year-old to run.
“With Paul, it’s more about obligation than opportunity,” says another Wisconsin Republican. “He is determined to have the 2012 election be about the big things. If that means he has to run, he’s open to it.”
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And so on. Jennifer Rubin discovers yet more anonymous Republicans who are trying to push Ryan in. I've definitely talked to Republican members of Congress who want Ryan in. The dream is sweeter than the reality.

The primary problem: Being the lead economic voice of your party means being pragmatic. If he ran, Ryan would be the only Republican candidate who voted for TARP, and the second (after Thaddeus McCotter) who voted for the auto bailout.

The general election problem: Ryan has never passed one of his budgets. He's been a voice of concern inside the GOP, then a voice in the minority, then a budget chairman who's able to outmatch Democrats in debate while saddling the party with entitlement reforms that are incredibly hard to run on. Every sign suggestes that the GOP will want to run, again, against Medicare cuts. (Even Bachmann does this on the trail.) One reason the "Lean Six Sigma" pledge is popular is that it promises leaner government without painful reforms. If Ryan makes the race, and the race becomes about government reform that cuts benefits, that makes the White House more attainable... how?

No, our presidential primary system rewards people who stay out of the arena in Washington. This is just a nice fantasy.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.