JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 7, 2011
In the face of what seems like obvious steps by Paul Ryan to at least generate interest in a presidential campaign, I've been utterly baffled by the lack of general media interest in the possibility that he might run. Can somebody tell me why I'm wrong? Okay -- you there, Jay Newton-Small from Time, with your post entitled "Why Paul Ryan Isn't Running For President." Here we go:
Generally, Ryan replies that he’s flattered but happy where he is. He talks about his young children and how his father and grandfather both died young of heart disease. Ryan, as a teen, was the one who discovered his father’s body. And while the Wisconsin congressman is doing everything in his power to avoid that fate – including leading daily morning exercise classes on Capitol Hill – he can’t be sure. There’s a reason, he says, that he’s not in leadership: He prefers spending weekends with his kids rather than crisscrossing the country fundraising and stumping for candidates, as leaders are expected to do.
He doesn't want to run because he wants to keep his exercise regimen? He does know that the current president is an exercise fanatic, as was the president before him, right?
And, finally, Ryan says he’s “a policy guy who has to be a politician for the policy,” as he told me last year. He’s happy being Budget Committee chairman – and just look at the waves he’s managed to make there – burying himself with wonky spreadsheets and think tank white papers, dreaming of one day becoming chairman of the powerful tax writing Ways & Means Committee. To a deficit hawk like Ryan, that seat is the pinnacle of power, perhaps even more so than the Oval Office. After all, constitutionally, the House is the branch of government responsible for taxing and spending — not the White House.
Okay, unrelated point first: Stop calling Ryan a "deficit hawk." He voted for all of Bush's tax cuts. He voted for all the wars. He voted for Bush's Medicare prescription drug bill. He voted against the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act. He voted against the Bowles-Simpson plan. He opposes any deficit reduction plan that increases revenue. Ryan is anti-government but he is clearly not a deficit hawk.
Anyway, back to the main point. We're supposed to believe that Ryan doesn't want to be president because he's a humble spreadsheet wonk? The degree to which Ryan has gotten reporters to swallow his crafted public image is just shocking. And I agree that Ryan would love to head the Ways & Means Committee -- so he could hand out tax cuts for the rich, because he's not a deficit hawk -- but the notion that he believes that job has more power over the budget than president of the United States is just daft.
What's more, this notion that Ryan just cares too much about the federal budget to run for president has a bit of trouble explaining what he was doing delivering a foreign policy address. Budget Committee chairmen don't do that very often.
Newton-Small provides one more reason:
Almost everyone I know in Ryan’s circle laughs this off, repeating to me all the reasons above why Ryan’s not going to run. I can think of at least one more: the Democrats’ demagoguery of Ryan’s plans for Medicare. They would love Ryan to run for President if only so they could keep spreading their message that Ryan, along with all Republicans who don’t disavow his plan, want to kill Medicare as we know it. (In fact, Ryan does want to fundamentally change Medicare, though those over 55 would be grandfathered in.) That’s probably why it’s mostly Democrats who are seriously pushing the notion that Ryan is running.
Mostly Democrats? I don't know anyone left of center other than me who's argued that Ryan seems to be considering a run. But conservative magazines and blogs are on fire with the notion. Here's conservative pundit/"political analyst" Michael Barone describing his attempts to personally beg Ryan to run:
One question hung over the meeting, and was briefly mentioned by National Review editor Rich Lowry in his 20-minute colloquy with Ryan after the speech: Will Paul Ryan run for president? Before the talk began I asked Ryan if he had read Paul Rahe’s ricochet.com blogpost entitled “Paul Ryan: A Duty to Serve.” Ryan has said that one reason he is not interested in running for president is that he would have to spend time away from his family, including three young children. Rahe, referencing Jennifer Rubin’s reflections in her Washington Post Right Turn blog on how Navy sailors and officers spend months away from their families, argues that Ryan has a duty to serve. His final paragraph is pretty strong stuff...
After the speech and colloquy I handed Ryan a paper copy of Rahe’s post and urged him to read it. He said he would. My guess is that Paul Ryan is giving serious consideration to running for president, and that something like Paul Rahe’s call to duty rather than any crass political calculation is likely to persuade him to do so. I note that over at the Huffington Post Jon Ward seems to be drawing a similar conclusion.
For the record, neither Barone nor any of the other people described in his post are Democrats.
I don't dismiss the fact that Ryan's allies laugh off the presidential run talk. But there's a way this game is played. Denying interest is the norm. Hinting that you might run isn't. Statements and actions suggesting interest in a run therefore carry more weight than disavowals of interest. And Newton-Small's reasons why he absolutely, positively won't run seem very weak.