House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Fox yesterday that he would consider running for vice president this year if the Republican nominee asked him to be his running mate.
Asking Ryan about the vice presidency this year was the wrong question. What Ryan should have been asked was whether everything he’s doing now…especially the politically very difficult budget resolution he put together that the House will vote on this week…is part of a master plan to run for president in 2016.
Here’s my thinking:
- There are lots of questions about why Ryan is pushing other Republicans to vote for a budget that could be very damaging for the GOP beyond its base. Jonathan Bernstein and others are talking about it as if he’s asking his GOP colleagues to take “the Ryan plunge.”
- There’s no chance the Ryan budget will be adopted this year. The Senate has already indicated it won’t take up a budget resolution and the Ryan budget will not be acceptable to a majority of senators even if it did. That makes this week’s House vote on the Ryan budget what Capital Hill insiders used call “walking the plank,” that is, forcing a member of your own party to vote for something he or she knows will be politically harmful even though it has no chance of moving forward.
- One of the main questions is why Ryan is doing this if his budget has little appeal beyond the GOP base. From my perspective, that’s the only constituency — the Republican base — Ryan actually cares about. Putting a budget together than doesn’t compromise when other party leaders have been criticized for doing the opposite is something the base will remember long after the specific policies are forgotten.
- This last point is important. The 2016 election is four and a half years from now and the budget and economic situation will be very different by the time that election’s nominating process begins. That means that the budget policies that this year are giving so many in the GOP heartburn — especially the Ryan-proposed changes in Medicare — will be a historical artifact. What will be remembered, however, is that Ryan was willing to lead the fight that few others were willing to lead.
- That will likely be one of the cornerstone’s of a Ryan campaign: A leader who is unafraid to take on the tough issues.
- Several things are needed for this strategy to work. One of them is that Barack Obama has to be re-elected in 2012 so that there’s no GOP incumbent in the White House in 2016. One of the others is that Ryan this year has to put together the type of take-no-prisoners budget he put together this year. Third, Ryan has to play to the GOP base now even if it means alienating independents. Fourth, Ryan has to take a paint-myself-in-the-corner-and-refuse-to-compromise position on budget issues and use rhetoric to match.
In this context, Ryan indicating yesterday he would consider running for vice president on this year’s GOP ticket makes a good deal of sense. He would be the attack dog member of the ticket that appeals to the base. Given his age he would become the next-in-line candidate, a position of extreme importance in the Republican Party. And if the GOP candidate loses in 2012, Ryan would have just spent months making national contacts and enhancing his position with the GOP base, the group that will be critical to the 2016 nomination.
As this story from Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post shows, until his interview yesterday, the Republican spin was that Ryan really was a just policy wonk who cared less about running for higher office than other politicians. I didn’t believe it when Chris’ story was published last week and I definitely don’t believe it after Ryan’s Fox appearance.