Ryan aims to be the cycle’s supply-side champion, playing a Jack Kemp–like role to the party nominee, informing them on economics and battling alongside them, as a happy warrior, for tough medicine. “What I can do is help to raise the standards,” he says.
He will not issue specific challenges to the contenders — “I think that kind of thing is petty” — but he will urge them to seriously evaluate the country’s fiscal and economic condition, and the solutions outlined in the House GOP budget that passed earlier this year.
“Look, there are other ways of dealing with these problems, but if you are a conservative, if you believe in limited government and free markets, it has to look something like this, or otherwise you will be using a big-government solution,” Ryan says. “With all of those details, there is plenty of room for debate. We should have a healthy debate. We should all keep our minds open about how to keep our principles and figure this out.”
Ryan enjoys getting into the weeds on policy, but when it comes to the 2012 presidential campaign, he does not want to see bickering over minutia. Fiscal numbers, of course, are very important to him, but getting the party to embrace “big ideas” is paramount.
Ryan recalls that Kemp, a late congressman and the GOP’s 1996 vice-presidential nominee, taught him about how to frame conservative policies on the national stage. Before Ryan first ran for Congress in 1998, he spent nearly a decade in Washington as a speechwriter and policy director on Capitol Hill. Early on, he joined Kemp’s think tank, Empower America.
“He taught me that big ideas are the best politics,” Ryan says. “They will always be challenged, and they will sometimes be controversial, but you have to do what you think is right, what you’re passionate about, and be a strong advocate for it. If you do that, you can shift the debate in major ways. He showed me how you can do that.