Political Animal


October 16, 2012 1:05 PM Catbird Seat

By Ed Kilgore

There’s a long new profile of Paul Ryan done by Mark Leibovich for the New York Times Magazine that’s part campaign travelogue, part abbreviated biography, and part political analysis. The biographical sections make Ryan look like more of the nerdy career congressional staffer than the steely-eyed social darwinist (there is not one mention of the woman Ryan himself treated as a mentor not that long ago, Ayn Rand). Liebovich does nicely nail Ryan’s much-remarked-on ability to combine a reputation for wonkiness with exceptional vagueness, calling him “deft at conveying precision and specificity without being the least bit precise or specific.”

But the real thrust of the piece, reflected in its title (“Paul Ryan Can’t Lose”), is that Ryan is really in the catbird seat: if Romney wins, he gets a starring role in the radical fiscal game-plan of the administration, and if Obama wins, he remains in Congress as the new reigning star of the GOP and the conservative movement, receiving (now that he’s gotten through his debate with Biden) no blame for a loss that will be attributed by conservatives either to Romney’s many limitations or to the incumbent’s devilishly seductive vote-buying prowess and the active assistance of the media.

Leibovich doesn’t get that much into the internal dynamics of the Republican Party or the possible 2016 landscape, but it’s true Ryan would be in a good position on November 7 if he’s not headed to the White House. He is equally beloved by the libertarian and cultural-Right wings of the conservative movement. And the long list of possible ‘16 candidates might actually work to his favor. After all, conservatives wound up with presidential nominees they didn’t like or trust in both 2008 and 2012 because they did not consolidate support behind a single ideologically righteous candidate. They can be expected to be sure to avoid this sort of demolition derby next time around, and while you can make a case for Rubio or Jebbie or McDonnell or Bobby J. or Paul the Younger or perhaps someone we’re not thinking about just yet, no one has the unblemished record or movement-wide popularity of Ryan. And he’ll have the private and public vetting and the national campaign experience the others all lack behind him.

Giving movement conservatives a future presidential candidate was almost certainly part of the calculus that led Romney to choose Ryan to be his running-mate—along with the assessment, which has turned out to be accurate, that low-information swing voters knew nothing of the Boogeyman reputation Ryan had developed among progressive activists, which he could brush aside with some high-profile dishonesty about his policy preferences. And Team Mitt also knew conservatives would be much less likely to carp about the campaign strategy of a ticket with their maximum hero on it. So it’s worked out pretty well for everyone involved.

It’s always possible Ryan will commit a notable gaffe that hurts the ticket and his own ambitions. And Leibovich briefly mentions the difficult position Ryan might be placed in if Romney were to win and then tried to double-cross conservatives. Since the whole Moderate Mitt Meme is pretty much a rhetorical construct that hasn’t, so far, required any significant changes of position or primary season promise-breaking (given the speed with which Team Mitt walked back his suggestion that he wasn’t interested in abortion legislation), that scenario remains remote. And so Paul Ryan marches towards November 6 with few clouds on his horizons, Lord help us.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • JMG on October 16, 2012 1:24 PM:

    Ryan's danger is Romney's elected and his agenda and decisions turn out to be unpopular. Which could happen, surely.

  • c u n d gulag on October 16, 2012 1:24 PM:

    The thought of this vicious young sociopath being on the political scene for the remainder of my life, and possibly being elected President, scares the living sh*t out of me.

    He needs to be openly mocked as the lying sociopath that he is, at every opportunity by Democrats and Liberals.

    Do what Joe Biden did to him in every Congressional hearing.
    If you're on some news show, Democrats, do what Joe did in the debate.
    MOCK HIM!!!

    Maybe the MSM might eventually pick up on some of that.

  • martin on October 16, 2012 1:28 PM:

    And Leibovich briefly mentions the difficult position Ryan might be placed in if Romney were to win and then tried to double-cross conservatives.

    Oh, this could be perfect for Ryan if handled with the petulance and bravado the tparty loves. Start with lots of leaking about Ryan first disagreeing with Mitt's advisors, who, of course, are "betraying conservatism." Slowly the story evolves into Ryan being locked out of decision making by the Washington insiders. Finally, some ultimate betrayal of the cause by Mitt and Ryan goes all Palin-- resigning mid-term because he can no longer be part of The Grand Sellout.
    Ryan then spends the next two years gathering donors, mesmerizing the tparty and primarying Mitt with the battle cry of He Didn't Betray Mitt, Mitt Betrayed The Cause! Loyalty to the Cause Above All.
    It would be the ultimate in tparty porn.

  • Ronald on October 16, 2012 1:29 PM:

    I think you may be incorrect when you say that 2016 isn't going to be a demolition derby of a primary season for the Republicans (if Mr. Obama wins, that is).

    With so many 'big names' sitting out this year, there will be lots of speculation for 2016- Jindal, Christie, Jeb, and now Ryan at the very least are names that come to mind. There may be one or two more 'in the wings' as well and they'll all be trying to prove their Conservative colors in the next few years.

    Ryan may have a close corner on the far right, but he's also a Congressman and can get as much blame for that role as he gets 'credit' for not 'Palin-ing' the Romney campaign.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 16, 2012 1:35 PM:

    Liebovich does nicely nail Ryan’s much-remarked-on ability to combine a reputation for wonkiness with exceptional vagueness, calling him “deft at conveying precision and specificity without being the least bit precise or specific.”

    Wow, this description really reminds me of myself immediately after I graduated from college. I really though I was hot shit even though I was quite full of hot, gaseous air. I'm not proud of this, but at least I grew out of that tendency towards self-important bloviating... Or at least I think I did... In any event I'm conscious of it, and I'm not running for vice president... at the present.

    Just sayin'...

  • Karen on October 16, 2012 1:37 PM:

    He's going to win, the economy will continue to improve because it has already started improving, and sociopaths like Ryan will be on power for the rest of my life, busily destroying my country and dooming my children and grandchildren.

  • Anonymous on October 16, 2012 1:42 PM:

    I guess so much for all those "Ryan diminished" posts here at WaMo.

    All I'll say about Ryan's national debut is that I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief, since he appears about a tenth as smart as his legendary wonk cred promoted by the right led us to believe. He's more furrowed brow and puppy dog eyes than amazing intellect. I guess I expected more of evil genius and less a ridiculous conman.

    Anyone catch his "washing a clean pot" pic over at the Maddowblog this morning? What a transparent fraud.

  • Peter C on October 16, 2012 1:47 PM:

    Let's not worry about 2016 just yet. Our best way of minimizing Ryan's power is to make him a loser in November.

  • Rabbler on October 16, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Is that the same Lord responsible for Tim Tebow touchdowns?

  • Linkmeister on October 16, 2012 2:36 PM:

    Rob Zerban is trying to ensure that Ryan does NOT remain in the House if the Presidential ticket loses. Have you forgotten that?

  • jjm on October 16, 2012 2:47 PM:

    Yes, Linkmeister. I guess the NYT forgot about Rob Zerban, who appears to be making headway against Ryan...

  • bos'n on October 16, 2012 4:05 PM:

    Cheer up folks. Liberals need to grow a pair. Think how conservatives must have felt in the 60s & 70s, when liberals seemed to hold sway, and admit it folks, did some dumb things along with the good things. I see the past couple of decades as the mirror image of the liberal ascendancy of the last century. My guess is we might be looking at a conservative Götterdämmerung, or failing that the beginning of something which could be worse, a global totalitarian Brave New Word or Animal Farm, with an international elite controlling the masses through psychotropic drugs, pop culture spectacles, and a few crumbs, come to think of it, they seem to be doing this already. The OWs kids would be better off cleaning up, going back to school, joining the Young Democrats and learning how to run election campaigns, take back state legislatures, gerry mander congressional districts and get their voters organized, the way the Republicans have over the years. If Democrats ever get enough gumption and power, the first thing they should do is reduce the power of money in the electoral process. Man up folks. This isn't over yet.

  • AlphaLiberal on October 16, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Um, there is still an election for Paul Ryan's seat in Wisconsin and those votes, to the best of my knowledge, have not been counted.

    Whaddaya say we hold off on declaring winners until the voters do their thing?

  • bos'n on October 16, 2012 5:37 PM:

    I don't know in what universe Paul Ryan would be considered appealing with his enormous ears, over size behonkus, and widow's peak. When I see him I think he should be hawking some cheesy gizmo or service in an infomercial in basic cable. He has the smooth unctuousness of a youngish Uriah Heep.

  • Anonymous on October 16, 2012 5:41 PM:

    Agatha Christie always had Miss Marple say in her novels that people with light blue eyes were often liars. I always have to chuckle when I see Ryan's baby blues. Of course, Bill Clinton and John Edwards have light blue eyes as well.

  • mb on October 16, 2012 11:43 PM:

    I know it's a state by state thing, but I think it should be against the law to run for 2 federal offices simultaneously.