Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan has decided for a final time that he will not run for president in 2012, THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned. Ryan, who began seriously considering a bid in late May after Indiana governor Mitch Daniels took himself out of the race, had consulted with top Republicans, including Karl Rove and Frank Luntz, as he contemplated his political future. And though many of those he talked with told him he would be a viable candidate in such a fluid race, even as a late entry, Ryan ultimately decided to continue his focus on debt and entitlement reform as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
"I sincerely appreciate the support from those eager to chart a brighter future for the next generation. While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party's nomination for President. I remain hopeful that our party will nominate a candidate committed to a pro-growth agenda of reform that restores the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation. I remain grateful to those I serve in Southern Wisconsin for the unique opportunity to advance this effort in Congress."
Ryan has said publicly he is concerned that those currently running for the GOP nomination are not addressing long-term fiscal and economic issues in a way that makes clear the magnitude of the challenges. He told Milwaukee talk radio host Charlie Sykes on August 12 that he was disappointed in the presidential debate in Iowa and thought the field needed a candidate who could articulate the need for limited government.
“The way I see 2012 – we owe it to the country to let them choose the path they want our country to take,” he said. “And I just have yet to see a strong and principled articulation of the kind of limited government, opportunity society path that we would provide as an alternative to the Obama cradle-to-grave welfare state.”
Ryan spoke with New Jersey governor Chris Christie earlier this month and, according to four sources familiar with the call, the two men agreed on the need for Republicans to field a candidate who isn’t afraid to engage the public—and Democrats—on entitlement reform. Christie, who had given a speech chastising timid Republicans on that subject in February, told Ryan that he did not intend to run. Christie’s representatives have said the same thing in public.
Ryan’s comments on the Republican field came one day before Texas governor Rick Perry announced his candidacy, though he was widely expected to join the race. Perry’s campaign reached out to Ryan last week and, while there is no indication Perry’s entry in the race had any bearing on Ryan’s decision, the two men plan to meet in a few weeks when they are both near Washington, D.C. Perry has called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and called for reform. That’s stronger language than Ryan typically uses but Perry is plainly willing to raise these previously untouchable issues.
Several sources close to Ryan tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD they were surprised at how close he came to running. Over the past several weeks, Ryan had talked extensively about running with select Republican party leaders, GOP strategists, and a tight circle of Wisconsin friends and advisers. In private meetings with fundraisers and conservative movement leaders he expressed skepticism that he could win, and raised concerns about the toll a race would take on his family. But he nonetheless made clear that he was open to running.
For Ryan, being president has never been a lifelong ambition. His consideration of a presidential bid came not because of any desire to be president and, in many respects, came in spite of his inclinations against one. Ryan has hoped that he might play the role of Jack Kemp to the next Ronald Reagan.
In the end, Paul Ryan is a conviction politician. Although he’s known for being cerebral, he makes most of his decisions by listening to his gut. The same instincts that told him to push forward with entitlement reform in the House Republican budget last spring are telling him to take a pass on the presidential race.