“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Paul Ryan's Formal Refusal To Run for President

I was busy ferrying a friend from his car's dealership to his home last night, for which he bought me dinner. So I missed seeing any Fox News programs and, thus, also missed coverage of Wisconsin Congressman's official declaration that he won't be entering the GOP presidential race for 2012.

It wasn't until I read this morning's Wall Street Journal editorials that I learned of this recent development. In concert with that editorial's sentiments, I'm happy that Ryan plans to remain in the House, assuming he wins his district again next year (for the eighth time).

Much has been made of Ryan's articulate manner of explaining the necessity of entitlement and tax reforms. But, as we've seen from Wonderboy, there can be an actual loss of force in the Oval Office, whereas being a powerful committee chairman in the House or Senate can be a force multiplier, for good or bad.

In Ryan's case, were the Senate and/or Oval Office to be won by the GOP in 2012, he would definitely be able to extend his influence from his House position.

It's an irony of the American system that a Representative like Ryan has only to win a single district in order to be returned to the House and, if in the majority, have great effect on national policy. Even being a Senator means, for many states, a much more challenging and expensive campaign just to, again, be one of many in a legislature with not really a tremendously larger influence than a Representative, unless the Senate is split closely enough to make every Senator the potential 60th or 41st vote.

When I was growing up in central Illinois, both GOP Congressional leaders lived within 20 miles of me. Bob Michel was the ineffectual House GOP Minority leader, while Everett Dirksen had the same position in the Senate. Neither ever ran for president, but both had surprising influence as a result of holding fairly safe seats for decades in a then solidly-GOP downstate Illinois.

But running for and winning the White House is an entirely different matter. Especially when there is an incumbent, no matter how inept and unpopular. The requirements of running a national campaign is probably not where you want said candidate to get his/her executive experience. And that could well be what happens to Paul Ryan, were he to have acceded to the requests of the GOP fundraisers who tried to recruit him into the race.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I'm reminded of Texas Senator Phill Gramm's run for president in the post-Reagan era. Though he led in money raised, Gramm never escaped the so-called 'green eyeshade' image and a sense he was, as the Wall Street Journal put it, 'running for chief accountant, rather than president.'

Ryan infuses his fiscal messages with more moral and lifestyle content, but, down deep, it's still mostly about wonkish policy details that don't actually play well in presidential campaigns.

Perhaps a different power distribution post-2012 will provide more options for Congressman Ryan. More success in his efforts to actually reverse the growth of entitlement spending. Perhaps a VP slot or a return to Madison to follow Scott Walker as governor. Or perhaps Ryan will depart the political scene, once he's successfully accomplished his work on entitlements.

But the Journal editorial was, I think, correct to congratulate him on knowing his limits and choosing to avoid the temptation of a presidential campaign, no matter how much others wish he'd have agreed.

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