Ryan in the Arena, Part II


Editor’s Note: In the current National Review, we have a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “The Would-Have-Been Veep: And should-have-been veep — Paul Ryan.” Ryan is the congressman from Wisconsin who was the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, running with Mitt Romney, and is the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Yesterday, we began an expansion of the magazine piece in Impromptus. For that first installment, go here.

I tell Ryan something personal, maybe something funny: When I was a kid, I was amazed by John Quincy Adams. How could someone go to the House after being president? That must have taken great humility. I’m not sure I could do it.

Ryan was never president — but he was on a national ticket, with all the attendant hoopla. How was it to return to the House, even as a major committee chairman? Any trouble adjusting?

Ryan says, “It took me about 36 hours, I suppose.” He adds, “I’m from Janesville, Wisconsin, and I never expected to be a member of Congress in the first place.”

I start talking about Mitt Romney, whom I admire, and who I wish had been elected president. Ryan, of course, feels the same way. Not only was Romney superbly qualified, he says, “he came at a moment in history that was perfect for him. The man and the moment . . .” — here, Ryan lets out something like a soft cry of anguish.

I say, “If the public didn’t want Romney — especially over Obama — whom would they want? I mean, whom could we put out who would appeal to the public, if Romney wasn’t good enough, over Barack Obama?”

Ryan says he understands, but just doesn’t think that way. “I’m just kind of an optimistic person. My wife always says that to me. I really always see the glass half full, not half empty.” For one thing, “life’s just more fun that way.” (True.) He says again, however, that he knows what I mean.

Does he ever . . .

Though not one to cry over spilt milk, Ryan indulges in a little “what if.” “I worked on a 200-day plan with Mike Leavitt,” the Utah politician who was a key Romney adviser and might well have been Romney’s White House chief of staff. The plan was for the first 200 days of a Romney administration. “We were going to take it all on. By this time, we would have had entitlement reform done, tax reform done, Obamacare would have been gone, we would be working on a rewrite of all the regulatory stuff . . .”

And this would have happened whether the Democrats or the Republicans controlled the Senate, says Ryan. There were plans either way. In the event of continued Democratic control, the Romneyites were going to mount a charm offensive, aimed at peeling off moderate Democrats. They were going to make matters comfortable for these Democrats. “I know a lot of them,” says Ryan. “Ron Wyden is a friend of mine.”

If you think about a Romney presidency, says Ryan, versus what we have now, “it’s like looking at two different countries. And that is thoroughly distressing.”

So he understands the discouragement or cynicism I have expressed. But his glass is half full, or more.