Conservative pundits have hardly been quiet about their desire to see House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) throw his hat into what many see as a less-than-stellar ring of prospective Republican presidential candidates.
And earlier this week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) raised eyebrows by saying he would like to see Ryan run, arguing that the bold leadership and willingness to confront the difficult issues Ryan has displayed as budget chairman is exactly what Americans are looking for.
“Paul Ryan is about real leadership,” he told reporters at a weekly press briefing. “I think what this public so desperately wants to do right now . . . [is] see a Washington that will lead. They don’t want to see individuals that dismiss the current problems as something that we can just sweep under the rug.”
Cantor is not alone. While rank-and-file members of Congress are typically hesitant to voice their opinions on a potential Ryan run — beyond “I’ll leave that up to Paul Ryan” — there are a number who would be more than thrilled to see the GOP’s premier budget champion launch a bid for the White House.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) tells NRO that he was one of the very first members of a “Draft Paul Ryan” Facebook group started almost two years ago. But what started as a quasi-joke has turned serious now that the Republican party is still in search of a star candidate who can take down President Obama.
Nunes insists there is plenty of time for others to join the field, and while Ryan has repeatedly denied any interest in running, Nunes thinks that if the pressure continues to mount and enthusiasm for the current field wanes, Ryan could be convinced to make the jump. “At some point, he’s going to have to make a decision,” Nunes says. “It would certainly be great for the party and the country if he did run.”
“It’s a very good idea,” says Rep. Tom McClintock (R., Calif.). “Paul Ryan would make an excellent candidate and an excellent president.” If Democrats are intent on making the House Republican budget the central issue of the 2012 campaign, who better than that budget’s author — and most capable defender — to be the GOP nominee? Other members certainly feel the same, McClintock said — you won’t find too many Republicans with a negative opinion of Ryan — but he insisted there isn’t a concerted effort among members to urge Ryan to get in the race. “I’ve not heard any rumors that he’s seriously considering it,” he said. “But I still think it’s a pretty good idea.”
Others, such as Rep. James Lankford (R., Okla.), are more ambivalent. “He’s a brilliant guy, very experienced and very focused on what he’s doing,” Lankford said. “Honestly, if Paul Ryan ran, he’d be a much better president than the one that we currently have, but so would some of these other candidates that we have.”
And a few are not so convinced that Ryan would be the right man for the job. “Is he old enough to run?” jokes Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), a tea-party freshman who serves on Ryan’s budget committee. While Huelskamp said Ryan “does a great job” as budget chairman, he suggested that Ryan’s status as a “Beltway insider” could hurt him in a political environment that is decidedly anti-Washington, particularly when it comes to Ryan’s votes for TARP and other bailouts.
Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.), a tea-party favorite, wouldn’t comment on the prospect of a Ryan candidacy, but did cast a knowing glance over his shoulder at Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.), saying, “There are some other House members thinking about running, you know.”
Ryan, for his part, has remained steadfast in the face of all this speculation. Though not quite as dramatic about it as Gov. Chris Christie (R., N.J.), Ryan has gone out of his way to convince people he does not want to run. “I’ve been very clear about this, I’m not running for president,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press last week. “If you’re running for president, you’ve got to do a lot of things to line up a candidacy. I have not done any of those things.”
When asked by one reporter what he thought of Cantor’s suggestion, Ryan joked that the majority leader was “throwing me under the bus.” Perhaps more tellingly, Gov. Scott Walker (R., Wis.), a long-time friend of Ryan’s, recently told NRO he seriously doubted Ryan would ever reconsider. “He’s got a young family; I don’t blame him,” Walker said. Others speculate that Ryan strongly covets the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee.
But if there’s one thing that most Republicans agree on, it’s that the race for the party’s nomination is wide open at this point, and it’s certainly not too late for more candidates to enter. That said, it doesn’t reflect well on the current crop of candidates when the overriding sentiment appears to be simply that “someone will be nominated eventually.”
For Nunes and others crossing their fingers for a Ryan bid, it all comes down to one basic point: “He can win.”
— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin Fellow.