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Now that Mitch Daniels is out, Paul Ryan should reconsider running for President. He shares with Daniels a kind of purity of purpose that other candidates don't have but which voters want. Ryan repeated on Meet the Press yesterday what he has said before - that he's not planning on running - but his statements are a long way from an official renunciation of presidential ambition. He might change his mind if enough people got behind an effort to draft him.
Here are five reasons why a "Draft Ryan" effort makes sense:
Ryan was harping on our nation’s fiscal crisis before it was cool. While GOP House members are quick to state their support of Ryan’s ideas, remember that only a handful of them co-sponsored his early Roadmap bill. If he were to get in the race, it would be because he is passionate about the issues, not because he wanted to be President – a Mitch Daniels kind of virtue that voters are prepared to reward these days. Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty were quick to praise Daniels on Sunday, saying that his warnings about our “out-of-control national debt” will “not go unheard.” But no one thinks of them as people who were serious about entitlement reform as the main way to address the debt before it became more acceptable to talk about it. Ryan, on the other hand, was defining (and possibly jeopardizing) his political career by these issues before the nation woke up to them. His interests are aligned with the nation's needs in an authentic way, not as a result of political ambition.
He’s young. This doesn’t get enough play in the media. Ryan is youthful and energetic. He’s more wonkish than Obama, but he’s a candidate that younger voters can get behind. And the GOP needs to start turning out more young voters.
He knows how to appeal to voters of all stripes and could do well in a general election. Ryan’s home district in Wisconsin is pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. He knows how to relate to people non-ideologically and keep the discussion about the issues. While talk radio and cable TV hosts may prefer combativeness and ideological purity, such characteristics will not win a general election. Daniels was the best prospective candidate in this regard. Ryan is a close second.
He knows how to do well in a primary. The previous point doesn't mean Ryan is incapable of succeeding in a primary. The guy was a staffer of Sam Brownback’s and worked for Bill Bennett and Jack Kemp. He knows social cons and understands what enthuses conservative voters. He has become the face of the Republican party in the past few months and is admired for standing firm on conservative values (note how Gingrich's attack last week turned conservatives against the former Speaker, not Ryan). He would handle a primary as well as anyone.
He would keep the Republican primary honest. One reason Daniels' prospective candidacy was such a forceful notion was that other candidates would have been forced to deal directly and consistently with the issues surrounding our fiscal crisis. Daniels would have kept those issues front and center. Ryan would do the same. He would also force specificity on issues, which we need right now. Holding to general talking points in the hopes that specificity can wait until after the election won't fly this time around. Ryan would force debate on specific solutions to Medicare, for instance, that would help differentiate not only Republicans from Obama, but Republicans from each other.
Ryan doesn't have the executive experience that Daniels has, and we all know that a member of Congress isn't supposed to run for President. However, the President of the United States didn't have executive experience before January 2009, and he was elected before completing a single term in the Senate. Conventional wisdom is meant to be broken in 2012.
Also, Mitt Romney is a good gauge for the value of executive experience right now. While voters respect his business career, it won't likely be enough to overcome a policy error - RomneyCare. Policy and political courage will matter a lot in this next election. Ryan is well-suited for just such a race.
Mary Matalin sums up the rationale for Ryan well in this Politico article:
The attraction to Ryan is he is the total package: brains, guts, political skills, perseverance, perspective, humility and most important, convictions predicated on conservatism. He is neither defensive nor self-righteous on the articulation of time-tested, commonsense Burke-ian, free-market, limited, enumerated representative republicanism. His weakness is not all in his party have his strengths.