Paul Ryan didn’t win the vice presidency, but no matter: Mitt Romney’s selection of the congressman from Wisconsin for the 2012 ticket has rocketed him into contention for 2016. Within Republican circles, Congressman Ryan – chairman of the House Budget Committee – had long been seen as a rising young star, best known for his mastery of budgetary and fiscal matters. Now he has a national profile upon which to build.
Ryan’s conservative credentials reassured Republicans that the ideologically suspect Mr. Romney was serious about his swing away from moderation. But it’s not clear that Ryan did much else for Romney in the campaign – or that he even could have. Voters vote for the top of the ticket, not the running mate. So for Ryan, the 2012 loss probably has no downside.
On the plus side for Ryan is his elevated status among the party faithful, his better-than-expected stump performance in 2012 – he didn’t lapse much into wonky budget talk – and his sunny youthfulness. By 2016, being a member of Generation X won’t be a negative: He will be about the same age Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were when they were elected president. (The same holds true for Rubio.)
One question is whether Ryan can make the leap directly from the House to the presidency. Plenty of sitting House members have run for president, but only one has succeeded (James Garfield). If he plans to run, he will have to work to maintain his national profile while playing a key role in the House.
His Jan. 1 vote for the “fiscal cliff” legislation that included a tax hike on the wealthy raised eyebrows among conservatives, but Ryan defended his position as prudent. If the bill had failed, everyone’s taxes would have gone up.
In contrast, Rubio voted against the bill. So while he was seen as sticking to his conservative principles (albeit with the knowledge the bill would pass anyway), Ryan emerged a pragmatist. That could hurt his chances with the conservative base, but 2016 is a long way away and he’ll have plenty more opportunities to reinforce his conservative bona fides.
In the PPP poll of Republicans on the 2016 nomination, Ryan came in second with 16 percent.