Rumors have been flying around that Paul Ryan, encouraged by everyone from Boehner to Daniels to Rove, is considering throwing his hat into the presidential ring. Some worry this is an "Anything But Perry" push. Some worry this is a Machiavellian plot to unseat Ryan from Congress. Some worry this will backfire and make Ryan unelectable in 2016. Some see presidential qualities in Paul Ryan but, for now, prefer he works his magic in the House. Paul Ryan rocks, but in 2012 he should remain where he can be the most effective and do the most good for our country... but where is that?
That's what I want to consider: Where can Paul Ryan do the most/least good? Where can he be the most effective? And what is the risk/reward ratio for the different options that lay ahead of Paul Ryan?
1. Scenario One: HOUSE. Safety, risks
Paul Ryan stays entirely out of the presidential race, poking out his head only to fight propaganda that demonizes his economics (as he has already done in Iowa). Ryan runs for House again. For the first time in his political career, Wisconsin's District 1 plans to run a real candidate against him. Wisconsin redistricting has made Ryan's seat safer, but it is by no means a given. His opponent began a "Hands Off My Grandma" campaign in the Spring. Since the S&P downgrade, I don't know if attacking entitlement reform will be a strong platform position.
Being a Wisconsinite (who does not live in Ryan's district), I've been paying close attention to the politics unfolding since the February protests erupted. Ryan is a threat to the Democrats. The concept of entitlement reform and fiscal responsibility is a threat to unions. If it weren't for the larger issues, then a real candidate plus red redistricting would probably lead to a Ryan win, albeit with a tighter margin than he's previously faced; however, the state and national climate cannot be ignored. After failing to flip state senate majority in favor of the Democrats via historic recall elections, the Democrats are hungry for a win. They are currently setting their sites on recalling Governor Walker -- an effort that I do not see succeeding. Next up will be the 2012 elections. National money will be flooded into Ryan's district, especially if Obama becomes even more vulnerable. If the Democrats can't ensure a Dem presidential win in 2012, the next best thing at the national level is to get Paul Ryan out of office.
Losing his House seat in 2012 and/or enduring a national smear attack without national monetary backing might be enough to offset Ryan's chances in 2016 or 2020, if not eliminating those chances entirely.
Conclusion: If Paul Ryan runs for his House seat, a win is likely but not guaranteed. A rough campaign that draws national attention is likely. Taking this risk and losing could be devastating to his career and ability to do good for the country. A House run might be the "safest" way to keep Ryan in Washington, but the risks might be greater that the rewards (see two.)
2. Scenario One: HOUSE. Safety, rewards.
If Paul Ryan wins his House seat, there are a few scenarios to consider.
A. Republicans take control of everything. Paul Ryan saves the world with his fiscal finesse and great hair. The End.
B. Republicans win POTUS and House. Democrats cling to the Senate the way Republicans are clinging to the House. If bills are passing the House and getting shelved and voted down in the Senate now, what kind of "good" can Ryan do in the House? Even if he ousts Boehner as Speaker, will contributing to the conversation (and likely leading the conversation) make a difference if we don't have the Senate, if the Senate sidelines and good Ryan tries to put forward?
C. Republicans win the Senate. Obama is reelected. Obama has already shown that he resents Paul Ryan's existence, view point, and presence in Washington. I think it isn't ridiculous to consider that Obama will be unwilling to sign legislation that promotes Paul Ryan. Also, as I step towards conspiracy-theory realm, I think it isn't ridiculous to consider that Obama will be more brazen about his agenda when he's not faced with reelection. Four years of an unmasked Obama will crush our economy and our country. I see little that Paul Ryan can do in this situation that goes above and beyond what he's doing now -- showing alternative plans, creating talking points, exposing Obama, etc.
I see two questions here:
A. If Republicans take control of everything, then Ryan's brain will certainly be an asset to Washington. Why would he need to be involved at the House level? POTUS, VP, or even Secy Treasurer are all options.
B/C. If Republicans do not take control of everything, it will be an uphill battle to keep Obama from ruining the country. Is the largest part of Ryan's importance here tied to his House seat? Could he have nearly equal influence if he took a Palinesque role?
3. Option Two. Presidential run, strategic.
A. Paul Ryan could run for president, having no intention to win the nomination. Call it getting experience for 2016/2020. Call it changing the national conversation to include specific economic plans. Call it what you will. He could easily run for president and gracefully bow out in a manner that strengthens the Republican field without damaging his chances to win his House seat. In fact, some national campaign time now might help to correct the "pushing granny off the cliff" image that endangers his House seat. At the least, he will get a taste of smear campaigns that might be used against him during his House campaign, allowing him time to plan accordingly. Ryan has a few million in his PAC. He will surely need all of it for a House campaign if, as I predict, Big Labor pours money into that local election. Ryan will also receive more PAC donations if he takes a quick trip down POTUS Campaign Lane.
B. Paul Ryan could run for president, having no intention to win the nomination... and then win the nomination. If Obama loses, that doesn't mean that Ryan would be SOL in 2016 (although I imagine it would sully his chances). Regardless, if Obama wins 2012, 2016 looks to be a formidable year -- Christie, Jeb Bush, etc. Paul Ryan would certainly be a contender, but his lack of executive experience and presumed lack of pushing through a responsible budget under Obama would likely count him out of a race against Christie and Bush Money.
4. Option Two. Presidential run, VP-oriented.
I'm a big Paul Ryan fan. I think having a policy wonk on the ticket can only help. But I have no idea if the rest of the deluded, misinformed public see Paul Ryan as a Granny-killer. Were I a presidential nominee, I would be concerned that Ryan might polarize the campaign; however, if Ryan tests the waters with a presidential campaign, that would give some indication of the attacks that might accompany him as a VP. As VP, Ryan could participate in budget talks, and, assuming I have my facts straight, while he could not directly participate in legislation/voting, he could write bills that Congress then votes upon. Hell, if you run for POTUS with Ryan as your VP, you don't intend to put him in a closet for four years. You'd want to actually use him for his strengths, right?
Could Ryan potentially be more influential as VP than as a House member?
If Ryan ran as VP and lost, does that not indicate that he might be most influential outside of the House (and not directly associated with the upcoming four year downward spiral)?
Am I being pessimistic by thinking that no Republican Congressman has a chance of doing anything of substantive value (other than TV appearances) if Obama is re-elected?
Thus far, I welcome Paul Ryan to the presidential race. Really, the only thing he's lacking is executive experience. Obama has shown that executive experience is necessary for getting people to reach across the aisle and work together... but one could argue that Ryan's position as Budget chair does give him at least a bit of experience in bipartisan whatevers. The other aspect of executive experience is crafting a budget and understanding budgetry in general, and Ryan's definitely got that down pat. At the least, he'll get some national exposure. At the worst, he'll bow out of the race or lose the nomination and go back to the House with some high profile campaigning under his belt.
Seriously, what does he have to lose? If Ryan is on the ticket, and they win -- yay! If Ryan is on the ticket and loses -- that means Obama won, and there's little that Ryan could have done via the House other than have his name attached (one way or another) to horrible votes.
As for electability... if there any doubt that the economy won't be the number one issue of 2012? Why on earth would we keep Washington's top guy off of the ticket? I mean, if we really want to win this thing, it's not time to be eyeing second string just because the first string is busy running laps.
(Off topic: I really wish Palin would run. I want to see a debate with Palin, Ryan, Bachmann, Romney, and Perry. Just them. Five podiums. And no-nonsense questions. *drool*)
Okay, now... What am I overlooking? What aspects of the risk/reward have I missed? (Especially stuff related to the Machiavellian theories that a run for president will ruin him forever.) In writing this, I've gotten myself all riled up in a Pro-Ryan Frenzy. But there must be some glaring errors that I've overlooked. Please, tell me what I've missed.