When the books are written in 2017, the image of Paul Ryan standing with Patty Murphy to announce a budget deal will be considered the true start to the presidential race.
Sure, campaigns start the day after the election and various pols have been visiting Iowa and New Hampshire for months but that’s primarily name recognition. Ryan actually put his chips in the pot to ante and you can feel the opposition sitting up and looking at their cards and money.
A short list of pros and cons at this point. I’m trying to evaluate them along three dimensions: How does he stack up to other Republican candidates; how vulnerable is he to Democratic criticism; how will he appear to the all-important group of 20% unaffiliated in the middle?
Is positioning himself as the grown-up in the room. The general public hates Congress now and the Republicans have garnered most of the blame for grinding government to a halt. If he can look like the figure that is getting bills passed, he’ll have a golden glow.
Is extremely conservative with libertarian leanings. This is ambivalently good, given the distance the right now extends and attacks he’s already seeing from conservative conservatives, but it does offer some protection from the worst in-party attacks and appeals to a small but possibly crucial percentage of self-identified libertarian voters.
Is from a Midwestern state rather than the South. Southern Republicans have a poor reputation nationally. The South will support any Republican; it’s less clear that the other sections will.
Was the 2012 vice-presidential nominee. He lost but nobody sane blames him for Romney’s loss. He gained experience in a national campaign and most importantly, he was vetted both by Romney and the press. Christie was apparently dumped because of vetting issues. This could be huge.
Is in the majority in the House. The Republican Senators have few if any accomplishments to offer. And a Senator from the minority party has never won the Presidency. Harding, Kennedy, and Obama were all part of the majority. I think this is not coincidence but a measure of the voter looking for winners. Caveat: Primary voters may prefer a Senator who fights for their causes even futilely.
Is from the House. No House member has ever been elected President. Just to be a major party candidate is rare. I think Henry Clay is the only one. (Lincoln’s highest office was in the house, but that was a decade earlier. Ford ran for President as President.) The House has been seen as the junior body since, well since the time of Henry Clay. There’s always has to be a first one, but it seems like a considerable handicap, especially as Paul is not even part of the leadership.
Is from Congress. Congress has enormous negatives and Republican Congresspeople have even higher negatives. The party and the voters might well prefer a Governor who doesn’t have to dig out a hole this size just to be even.
Is from Wisconsin. Obama won Wisconsin by 7 percentage points with Ryan running as VP. He would absolutely have to flip the state to win the election and that seems unlikely.
Is from the liberal point of view bat-shit insane. The negative campaign industry will have a field day on Ryan’s history.
Is vulnerable to the flip-flop charge. Did you know he was for renewing relations with Cuba before he was against it? Silliness, but this will be trotted out over and over, especially in Florida.
Will constantly be confused with Rand Paul. More silliness, but it will happen.
All of this is merely a starter list. But that’s where we’re at: the start. Any realignment of the Senate in 2014 will be a huge factor. I think the odds of that are small but not 0%. But we should see who the real candidates are within a few months regardless.