Welcome to the latest chapter in the seemingly eternal courtship of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Ryan endorsed GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney late last week. Ryan then paraded Romney around the Badger state prior to the Wisconsin primary. Ryan’s backing helped Romney capture that critical swing state this week. And on Tuesday, Ryan seized the stage to introduce the former Massachusetts governor after his primary win.
And thus the speculation began. Like it truly ever stopped. Some soothsayers believed the Romney-Ryan joint appearances were an apparition from the future. Perhaps in Tampa later this summer. And the chattering started that Romney and Ryan went together like cheese curds and Leinenkugel. Ryan won’t run for president. But if Romney becomes the nominee, perhaps he’ll tap the 42-year-old, telegenic numbers wonk as his running mate.
Here we go again.
Does any one have any idea how many times Ryan has traveled this road? People trying to get him to run for the Senate. Trying to get him to run for governor. Trying to get him to run for House Minority Leader. Trying to get him to run for House Majority Leader. Trying to get him to run for House Speaker. Trying to get him to run for president. Trying to get him to run for Assistant Regional Manager at Dunder Mifflin…
“I seem to have three certainties in my life,” opined Ryan an interview with my colleague Nicole Busch Tuesday. “Death, taxes and bitter, partisan attacks from President Barack Obama.”
Ryan should add a fourth: conjecture about his political future.
There’s a reason Republicans have a love affair with Ryan. There’s the whip-smart-attractive-well-spoken narrative. There’s his rock-ribbed, conservative credentials. But there’s something else. Many Republicans see Ryan as the savior of the party. He carries a certain Q Score which appeals to multiple demographics of the Republican party. He can argue his points, but not appear harsh. He can go toe-to-toe with political opponents on TV and recite facts and figures, but doesn’t come off as bookish. He doesn’t appear to be aloof. He laughs easily. He has good hair – much like Romney.
But beyond that, there’s a certain appeal to Ryan which invites the party faithful to project him into certain roles. It’s kind of like casting for a play or a movie. There are only going to be certain actors who are capable of portraying given parts. However, there are always a few actors who can play about anything due to their dynamic range. That’s one of the reasons political observers frequently cast Ryan in these roles. They can see him in the Senate. They can see him as House Speaker. They can see him as President of the United States. Or in the latest iteration, Vice President of the United States.
By GOP standards, Ryan is “straight out of Central Casting.”
But there’s something else about Ryan.
Ryan may be capable of performing a variety of those political roles. But it also tells you something about the availability of those roles – to say nothing of the GOP’s dissatisfaction with those who occasionally occupy those positions.
Take the fall of 2008.
The voters shellacked Republicans at the polls. House Republicans remained in the minority for a second-consecutive Congress. And some in the GOP implored Ryan to run against then House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).
Few could blame the GOP’s loss of the House in 2006 on Boehner. But some were out for blood when Republicans compounded their losses by losing 21 House seats in 2008.
There was a natural dissatisfaction with Boehner. But there was no challenger on the horizon. Naturally some thrust Ryan’s name to the forefront. The Wisconsin Republican ultimately demurred and didn’t run.
Or how about last spring when Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) abruptly announced he wouldn’t stand for re-election in 2012. Everyone immediately sought Ryan out to run. Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), former Rep. Mark Neumann (R) and Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald are vying for the nomination. But no Ryan. Again, much to the disappointment of the GOP faithful.
So one can imagine how crestfallen they were when Ryan took a pass on the presidential sweepstakes this year. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) begged off. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) didn’t run. Nor did Sen. John Thune (R-SD). New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) skipped the contest, too. Instead, many Republicans were left with a presidential field that deeply disappointed them. Especially when they feel they have a chance to unseat what they perceive as a deeply-flawed president in Mr. Obama.
So it was only natural that GOP quarters sounded the alarm bells – in hopes of drafting Paul Ryan.
The thematic in all of these scenarios is that some Republicans simply aren’t pleased with the those already in place. So they turn to the most appealing commodity they have: Paul Ryan.
The fascination with Ryan is akin to a fans and scouts getting excited about a Major League Baseball prospect. Ryan has all of the tools to be to be one of the game’s biggest stars. He’s loaded with potential and we’ve seen flashes of brilliance. But Ryan’s not yet made the final leap into stardom. That’s precisely what Republicans want from Ryan now.
Is Paul Ryan a silver bullet for the Republicans? The Democrats certainly don’t think so. They’re more than happy to remind voters about the budget he crafted. Democrats claim it fundamentally threatens Medicare and eases taxes on the wealthy.
“It unites our party. It animates the public,” charged Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
“This is going to be a defining issue in 2012,” added Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who’s gunning for Kohl’s Senate seat in Ryan’s home state.
In many respects, Romney’s embrace of the Ryan budget blueprint helps him among conservatives who are skeptical of his credentials. But that’s the exact scenario Democrats want. Democrats want to hem Romney to Ryan because they already did a good job demonizing the Budget Committee Chairman during last year’s budget fisticuffs. Now they’re describing this year’s fiscal plan as the “Romney-Ryan Budget.”
However, some Republicans think this would be the perfect matchup.
They’re outraged with the President’s spending on health care and stimulus. They laughed off his budget proposal. Especially after the House voted down a version of Mr. Obama’s budget 414-0. The GOP believes the House’s ability to pass the Ryan budget completes a perfect juxtaposition with the Senate – which Republicans will remind you hasn’t passed a budget since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
Many Republicans believe Ryan the “budget master” is the right man for the job at just the right time.
But we’ve been here before with Ryan.
So, if Romney captures the nomination, does he finally court Ryan to join him on the ticket to the delight of the party? If so, Romney’s potential entreaties to Ryan would have succeeded where others have failed for years.
This comes as others with possible vice presidential chops are backing away. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced she would say no. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) said no. The same for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Meantime, Ryan says he’d have to consider a vice presidential prospect.
The GOP’s vice presidential parlor game will rage in the nation’s political salons for most of the spring and summer. Ryan will continue to command significant attention. But that’s nothing new for Ryan. Some compared Ryan’s escort of Romney around Wisconsin to an audition for a potential veep slot. But Ryan’s never even had to audition for this role or any other. He’s just always on the short-list and doesn’t even have to try out.
Because Republicans are still looking for a superstar. Just as they did in the fall of 2008 when some tried to coax Ryan to challenge John Boehner. Just as some wanted him to run for Senate or run for president.
That’s because Republicans have looked around the stage for years now and not seen many folks who they think can carry the conservative torch. They’ve had call-backs and run open cattle calls. But never found their match.
But it doesn’t matter. To many Republicans, only one figure stands out: Paul Ryan. And that’s because in GOP political circles, he comes straight from Central Casting.