Why do so many conservative pundits keep urging Rep. Paul Ryan to run for President? Do they really hate him so much that they want to destroy his political career before it goes anywhere? Of course, they aren’t saying this because they hate him, but inexplicably because they believe the architect of a wildly unpopular budget is one of the best available candidates for the Republican nomination. Part of this is the result of dissatisfaction and loathing inspired by the other candidates, but part of it seems to be a delusional belief that pushing entitlement reform, while necessary and desirable, is also a political winner.
Jonah Goldberg sums up this view in a new column:
So the question many are asking is, should Ryan ride to the rescue? If the election is going to be a referendum on his plan, maybe the one guy who can sell it should get in the race. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called for Ryan to get in the race, saying, “Paul’s about real leadership.”
If Ryan ran, he would probably drive the other candidates further away from his own plan while forcing them to come up with serious alternatives of their own. If he got the nomination, many think he would clean Obama’s clock in the debates.
It’s a lot to ask. He has three young kids and would have to get organized and funded from a cold start for a long-shot run. But politics is about moments, and this one is calling him. Unless someone suddenly rises to the challenge, the cries of “Help us, Paul Ryan, you’re our only hope!” will only get louder.
I don’t understand this thinking at all. Paul Ryan has no reason to do this, but what’s even harder to understand is why anyone thinks that a Paul Ryan presidential campaign is going to “rescue” anything. For one thing, Ryan doesn’t need to be in the race for candidates to support his plan or something very much like it. Virtually all of the declared and likely candidates have endorsed it to one degree or another, and Gingrich was forced to abandon his criticism in a matter of days. If Ryan wants to advance his policy ideas in Congress, frittering away time, energy, and attention on a quixotic presidential bid is actually harmful. If he runs a campaign that isn’t just a platform for policy advocacy, he is going to have to confront the fact that his proposals are not terribly popular, and that could lead him to hedge or qualify support for his own ideas.
On top of all this, there is the problem that Ryan is perceived as a one-issue politician, and when we look at his record on that issue we find that he doesn’t actually have very much credibility. As far as most people who know anything him are concerned, he is preoccupied entirely with entitlements and debt. Mitch Daniels just showed how that kind of single-minded focus on fiscal issues actually goes over very badly in the modern GOP, because all of the constituencies need to be appeased, they demand attention, and they become very surly when they don’t get enough of it. What many people don’t know, but will find out if Ryan were crazy enough to run, is that he has not been a very good fiscal conservative in the past. The only reason that I can see why Ryan is being touted as the acceptable alternative is that no one is paying any attention to the rest of his record.
Ryan voted for the TARP (and oddly enough he has cited Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism as a contributing factor in his thinking), and he voted for Medicare Part D. He supported adding significantly to the government’s long-term liabilities without making any effort to pay for them, and now he is supposed to be the voice of fiscal sanity? On the two biggest, most controversial votes of the last decade relating to the financial sector and entitlements, Ryan was on the wrong side, and if they are at all serious about fiscal responsibility many, perhaps most, conservatives would hold these votes against him if he ran. Compared to this, Mitt Romney’s health care liability is barely noticeable.
Update: Ramesh Ponnuru makes the same point today:
Right now, conservatives think of Congressman Ryan as a bold, free-market visionary. Within weeks of his entering the race, he would be redefined as the longtime Washington fixture who voted for TARP, the prescription-drug benefit, the auto bailout and other bills hated by Republican primary voters.
That should raise some questions about how short conservative memories are, underscore how easily many conservatives are swayed by the right rhetoric, and remind everyone how remarkably malleable the GOP’s new heroes are when Republicans had unified control of the government.