The Magazine

To Run or Not to Run

That is Paul Ryan’s question.

Aug 29, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 46 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Ryan cut him off: “I do. Because this is how we get our country back. We do it through a referendum letting the country pick the path, not by having a committee of 12 people pick the path or not by having just the inertia of just letting the status quo just stumble through by winning a campaign based on dividing people.”

Such things were on Ryan’s mind when he met later that day in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, with Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who stopped by to see Ryan before heading to Ames for the straw poll. According to several sources with knowledge of the meeting, Luntz had included in his polling of the Republican presidential race questions about some prominent Republicans not yet running. When Luntz volunteered to share the results, Ryan, who hadn’t done any polling of his own, agreed to see him. Luntz had tested voters’ responses to Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Ryan, among prominent noncandidates. The results, according to a Republican with knowledge of the discussion, were “very positive” for Ryan.

Luntz is not the only campaign veteran who’s been talking to Ryan. He has been speaking regularly with a number of Republican strategists. Among them are Karl Rove, the longtime adviser to George W. Bush. As Ryan has thought through his decision he’s had as a sounding board the only GOP strategist to win a presidential election in the last two decades.

Other prominent Republicans last week publicly urged Ryan to join the race. “If there were a Paul Ryan fan club, I’d be a national officer,” Mitch Daniels said in a phone interview last week. Daniels has been in touch with Ryan about his decision. “I don’t think it’s a secret that he was strongly encouraging me to try. I’ve been strongly encouraging him to run as well. He has all the qualities our party needs to be emphasizing in these elections. He can explain—and is willing to explain—in plain English why today’s policies are a disaster for the middle class, and he has the smarts to go toe-to-toe with the people who are saying misleading things about the proposals that he’s put out there.”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush agreed. “Paul Ryan would be a formidable candidate. I admire his substance and energy. Win or lose, he would force the race to be about sustained, job-creating economic growth and the real policies that can achieve it.”

And Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, among the most popular governors in the country with Republicans after winning his battle with the state’s unions, offered the strongest encouragement yet. “Paul Ryan is one of the most courageous people I know,” Walker said. “We need leaders who care more about the next generation than they do about the next election. That’s Paul.”

Others joined the chorus. Jim Jordan, a leading House conservative and author of the Cut, Cap, and Balance Plan that passed the House during the debt ceiling fight, said Ryan would be an asset to the race. Congressman Devin Nunes was pushing a Draft Ryan plan before it was cool. Texas senator John Cornyn and Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson also encouraged Ryan to run. Other lawmakers have gone to Ryan privately and urged him to get in. And for several months, in a procession that began well before Daniels declined to run, Ryan has been hearing from prominent GOP fundraisers and donors with promises to help him raise money if he joins the race.

Ryan spent several hours last week hiking in the Rocky Mountains with Bill Bennett, who has been a friend and mentor for nearly 20 years. They have been doing mountain hikes for several years, but in an interview before the outing Bennett acknowledged that the significance of this year’s trek was the decision on the other side of it. “I expect to have some good long talks.” Bennett declined to share details of those conversations.

Several people who have been talking to Ryan expect that he will return to Washington near the end of August having made his decision. Most everyone who has been in touch with him believes that he is still genuinely torn between the daunting challenge of a presidential campaign he never expected to wage this year and the obligation of stepping forward to serve his country in a time of crisis.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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